A personal story

Life can sometimes be ironic, and its lessons can sometimes be harsh.  But at the same time, it can teach you things that can only be learned through hard experience. 

When I was in my final year in Optometry, I had developed a small scabbing lesion on my nose bridge.  I was referred to the local dermatologist, who removed the spot.  To everyone’s surprise, it came back as a basal cell carcinoma, a form of skin cancer.  I was 21 at the time. 

I didn’t think too much about it at the time, probably because you think you are invulnerable at that age.  During my first year of dermatology residency, I noticed that the skin around my scar was becoming harder and the skin would not move.  I had the area tested. 

My old friend had returned.  Apparently, it had been running silent deep in my forehead all these years, and was now the size of a small orange. The cancer had spread over my forehead and into the left eye socket.  If the cancer was not completely removed, it could spread along the eye and eventually into my brain.  For me, the decision was simple.  I needed to sacrifice my left eye and everything in the socket to ensure that the cancer was removed.  One month later, I was back at Graduate School sporting an eyepatch. 

You learn to observe several things about human nature when you have a visible impediment.  First, children are very direct about their curiosity, and they are very ready to accept things and move on.  Adults on the other hand, try to pretend that there is nothing different, but frequently assume that you are somehow diminished in your abilities.  I found very early that the only restrictions on my abilities were the ones I imposed on myself.  In fact, I found that many of my technical skills improved, partly because I was learning other clues in eye-hand coordination, which I would have taken for granted before my surgery. 

I was fortunate to have a large team of kind and dedicated doctors who took the time to carefully explain things.  While I was a physician and aware of the implications of each step, it was very helpful to have each of my doctors not gloss over details or take things for granted.  This was especially helpful for my wife, who was also going through the grieving process and the loss of potentials that come with losing an eye.  I came to know how therapeutic it is to have your doctor carefully explain things, and to have the courage to do the things that need to be done with purpose and compassion.  This is what I strive to do each and every day.

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