Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Eye Has It

The first question most people ask is, "How did you find out you have cancer?"

Last fall, I started noticing that I had a droopy right eye. My concerns were purely aesthetic. I knew that "droopy eyes" are a hallmark of aging, but I couldn't understand why I was aging asymetrically. Sometimes, when I got bored at long stop lights, I whipped out my cell phone and took self-portraits. The portraits confirmed what the mirror had suggested: I had a droopy right eye.

I didn't think too much more about it until my annual physical in early January. The droopy eye was just one of about six vague complaints (torso rash, fatigue, gimp right knee, etc.) I reported to Dr. Blanco, my GP. As I rattled off the complaint, she fired back with a recommendation for a specialist, including a neurologist for the droopy eye.

My 17-year-old daughter was especially alarmed at this recommendation. "Mom, no. You don't need a neurologist. There's something growing in there." She took more pictures from different angles so that I could see the growth. She guided my hand over the mass and asked me to describe what I felt. She even pulled back my eyelid so that I could see what an opthamologist later referred to as an "encapsulated mass." For the first time in my life, I was happy to have an "in-your-face" kind of daughter.

The next day, I called back Dr. Blanco to report my new observations. "You're right. Let me refer you to an opthamologist," she said.

A week later I played a rousing round of "Stump the Ophthamologist." Ophtamologist number one looked at my encapsulated mass and declared that he'd never before seen anything like it. He called in his partner, who, according to an article in the waiting room, had served in WWII. That means that he's likely been practicing medicine for more than half a century. "Nope. Never seen anything like it," he agreed. "Oh, great," I thought. "A century of practice and I've stumped 'em."

From there, I consulted with two ocular surgeons. "It could be nothing or it could be something serious," they both concluded. I agreed to have a biopsy done under general anasthesia.

I met with Dr. Davidson, my ocular surgeon, on January 27, 2007, to discuss the pathology report. He said, "Well it's not the WORST news possible. You have lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system."

I didn't ask him what the WORST news could have been.