The Super Bowl

Ocular Melanoma

Part 1

I don’t know who won the Super Bowl. I want to make that one word but I know it will give Jolie tiny broken capillaries in her brain from stress when she reads this–so I won’t. Remember this later when you all think I’m an asshole.

We were waiting in line at the grocery store and there were 50,000 people in this United. I didn’t even realize it was Super Bowl Sunday. I don’t watch the Super Bowl. I honestly don’t care for professional football. The only games I’ve watched are games where Aggies are playing and I happened to catch the ridiculous Richard Sherman interview last year*.

While waiting in line my vision blurred just a bit. I gently rubbed my eye. The blur stayed. My husband, Darryl, had taken our daughter to the car a few minutes before. I felt something in my eye, but I don’t necessarily like people in my personal space and was to afraid to invite the lady bagging my groceries or the tiny Asian couple behind me into my bubble to take a look. Instead, I rubbed again. This time when I pulled my hand away a tiny smear of blood streaked across the back of my hand. My eye is bleeding.

I took the groceries to the car and climbed into the front seat. My husband was singing to my daughter. I yanked down the mirror and stared.

“What’s wrong?”

“My eye is bleeding”.

I could feel him squirm in the driver’s seat. He doesn’t do blood. Or vomit. Or our daughter’s messy pottys.

“Should I go to the emergency room?” I asked.

“Your eye is bleeding. So yes.”

I called a few of my fellow nursing students on the way for consults. There was a consensus. So we went.

I’ve had a brown spot on the limbus bordering the colored part of my eye since high school. In a basketball game my junior year I got poked in the eye. Blood pooled a bit in the white of my eye and it stayed for almost two weeks. Slowly it turned brown. For those two weeks and over the next ten years, I got used to people who ventured inside my bubble asking about it and my response because automatic.

“Its nothing. A scar. I’ve had it since high school.”

But it wasn’t a scar, and now it was bleeding.

*A note to Richard Sherman (who very likely will read this blog post because he truly cares what a 30 year old mother living in West Texas thinks): No one thought you were a jerk because you’re black or called you a thug for being black (well maybe some people did, but they’re idiots so let’s not give them any more attention). People called you a jerk because you looked like a jerk. I’m not saying you are a bad person, but you sure looked and sounded like one as you fumed and spit on national television. Please do better in the future and don’t blame others for you own inability to behave as a professional. Also congratulations on your jerky commercial! I hope you found that happy coincidence as humorous as I did.

Part 2

The ER nurses were nice. Darryl tried to corral our daughter while I answered questions and avoided looking at the scale. I haven’t lost the baby weight and though I normally enjoy actively fat-shaming myself I’m less inclined to do so in public.

When we finished the history the nurse told Darryl that Lena couldn’t come back with us. So I high-fived my husband and followed the nurse back. Darryl would go home and drop off our daughter. I’d call him when I was ready to go home. No big deal.

I waited about and hour for the doctor. I pinned recipes on Pinterest and watched How I Met Your Mother. When he came in he glanced at my eye and asked me to describe the vision loss.

“I was in line at the grocery store and my vision blurred. When I wiped my eye a drop of blood came away.”

“The nurse who did your assessment said you have 20/20 vision.”

You know how people say its not what you say but how you say it? Yeah, there was some of that going on and I didn’t appreciate it. I know I looked relaxed eating a boxed lunch and watching TV but the ER isn’t an ideal Sunday afternoon for me.

“Yes sir.”

“How is your vision normally?”

“Not blurry.”

I was starting to see red and it wasn’t because of a tiny blood drop. The doctor cleared his throat.

“I’m going to check your Oxygen level.”

He clamped the O2 sat on my finger and turned. As he walked away his stethoscope caught on the wires behind the bed and was pulled out of his pocket. It hung there limply between us and I smiled. Thanks Universe.

The doctor grabbed his stethoscope and put it back in his pocket. He took another quick look and told me to sit tight, that there was a Resident Ophthalmologist on site. He left and I was alone again.

Darryl showed up a few minutes later and we waited together. We joked about missing the Super Bowl and talked about dinner.

The Resident came and took us to a lab to do an assessment. He took pictures with his iPhone (eye phone <-Ha!) and stepped into the hall. Darryl smiled and said it was going to be fine, but something felt wrong. That sense of intuition. Something was nagging. Something in our primitive selves that still subconsciously reads body language, smells and cues. That little part of yourself with super powers to discern when there is danger. Something that puts dread deep down into the pit of your stomach. My spidey-sense was tingling.

When he came back in I asked him what he saw. He said he wasn’t sure and that as a resident he didn’t have the experience yet to determine what he was looking at.

“What do you think it looks like?”

“Squamous cell carcinoma.”

Carcinoma. Cancer.

He told me not to be alarmed and that they had Chemo drops to treat these types of things. If you have eye cancer, this was the kind to have. He set me up to see an Ophthalmologist the next day and we left.

I spent the entire night on the computer. That’s how I cope – by learning. By knowing.

We sent Lena with some family friends to spend the night. I called my professors. I called my dad. I cried. I cloaked myself in information and statistics. I curled up next to my husband and read studies on my iPhone underneath the covers. I listened to him snore and missed my daughter. I wished I’d gotten married earlier. Had kids earlier. Become a doctor. Stayed in California. Written more. Accomplished more.

At some point I fell asleep.

Ocular Melanoma
See that splotch right on the limbus. That SOB is trying to kill me.

Part 3

The ophthalmologist was great. Very kind. Reassuring. We scheduled a surgery for the coming Friday. It would give me time to rest over the weekend and I could still go to school on Monday.

A few years ago I quit my job as a teacher and head coach. I’d just gotten engaged and I took a year off to travel with my husband. We bounced around and ended up in California. I got to write and he worked out to get ready for the upcoming basketball season. Then his team went bankrupt and we came back to Texas. A little lost and a little worse-for-wear. I worked in real estate for awhile and right when we had nothing figured out we got pregnant. My timing has always been off. If you ever really want for something to happen have me ask for it not too. My dad had a heart attack and then a quintuple bypass and my daughter was delivered by C-section on Halloween. Darryl met her and fell madly in love. He decided to retire in December and we all set off for Lubbock. Darryl would finish the degree he left behind when he turned pro and I would start nursing school on my way to becoming a CRNA.

Darryl and Lena had gone to the appointment with me but she had her own appointment to keep. She’d had RSV for that last week and was due for a well check. They’d left about 30 minutes before I was called back.

The doctor sat across from me and told me what he’d seen. I had something called PAM ‘primary acquired melanosis’. Melanosis.

Melanoma.

Fuck.

But he wasn’t sure. They’d have to do a biopsy. The surgery was two-fold. To remove the lesion and to obtain a sample for biopsy. He recommended three hospitals across the country who specialize in this sort of cancer. The sort of cancer that 0.2 people in a million get. The sort of cancer I got.

I spent the week alternating between pretending nothing was wrong and doing extensive research on Ocular Melanoma of the Conjunctiva. During the day I went to school, cleaned house, played with my daughter and told myself it may not be melanoma. It may just be a benign nevis – a weird but mostly harmless eye mole. At night I read and I cried. Ocular Melanoma of the Conjunctiva has a 30% ten year mortality rate. The cancer being on the conjunctiva meant the likely spread would be through the blood. The first stop is usually the liver. Metastasis of the liver. Secondary liver cancer has a five-year survival rate of 15%.

Fuck.

My dad came up for the surgery. I went in on Friday morning. They excised the growth and I watched the whole thing. It was like looking up through the bottle of an overhead projector. Warped and blurred until the item got just close enough to make out. They cryo’d the area. Put a few stitches in and sent me home. It hurt like hell until I got the first round of prescription drops in and I laid in bed listening to the mostly genius dialogue of Aaron Sorkin’s West Wing.

Tuesday I went to school. I took two tests back to back and got ready for our first clinical experience of the semester.

Thursday the biopsy results came back. Ocular Melanoma of the Conjunctiva.

I left the doctor’s office and called my husband. I called my dad and texted my profs. I pulled over in the Walgreens parking lot and sobbed. I drove to my daughter’s daycare. Picked her up and we went to Target. I let her eat my Starbucks chocolate croissant and I bought storage bins, vegetables and sippy cups. Somehow that costs $145.00. Every time I looked at her I felt like I couldn’t breathe.

We got home and I cleaned the house. I threw out all our plastic tupperware and tried not to throw up. I laid out my clothes for clinicals the next morning and went to sleep.

My clinical assignment was on an oncology floor. I worked on charting and my bedside manner. At lunch I called my dad and we decided I wouldn’t be able to continue with school. I called my husband and he told me wherever I was he would be too. I cried. I told my school friends and my profs. My uncle called in a few favors and began searching out experts in the field.

I met my husband for lunch. We picked up our daughter from daycare and we went to Target. I let her eat my chocolate croissant from Starbucks. We bought a cheese grater, diapers and strawberries. Somehow that cost $178.00. I washed clothes and went to bed.

I woke up at 3:50 AM. My daughter was crying. She’s teething. I rocked her back to sleep and cried into the top of her head.

Read more about Liza Dora here. Or here. (<-This one’s funnier.)

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