Cancer from a Mom’s Perspective. by Shann de Smidt (S.Africa)

Eye examinationEarly last year my daughter Tarryn, aged 27, went to the doctor after having the fourth eye infection in as many months. “Use this medicine and if it doesn’t clear you will need to see a specialist,” she was told. She had noticed a little scab-like growth on the lower lid of her eye, between the eyelashes and eye itself. At first we thought it was a sty or maybe a little pimple, and hoped that it would soon disappear.

Within weeks, she had another eye infection and a visit to an ophthalmologist at an eye clinic was planned. The bad news was that that little scab was cancerous “but not so bad” because it was a basal-cell carcinoma. No matter what kind of cancer it was, it was still cancer. A kind of numbness set in as we tried individually and as a family to deal with the hugeness of this news. Something like this is way beyond what one would ever expect. We had always known that Tarryn’s fair skin tended to burn easily and she used UV creams as protection on her face. But how does one put cream between eyelashes and the eye itself?

After contacting medical aids, organising dates, preparing for the operation and getting friends to pray, Tarryn set off for hospital. An operation near the eye is gruelling in and of itself , but so is the waiting afterwards to see if they “got it all”. The agony as the anaesthetic wore off was horrible to watch, and the constant devotion of Tarryn’s friend feeding her a snack every four hours so she could safely take the strong painkillers was a great encouragement.

As the hours went by, the pain became so intense that she was just not able to cope. We contacted prayer chains and asked that friends and family pray for the pain to decrease. The tremendous support and love showered on us by this group of prayer warriors was the greatest blessing that came out of this difficult time. Within twenty four hours, the pain lessened but the results from the pathologist raised new anxiety. According to his findings, one of the “fingers” that is characteristic of this type of cancer had been cut through and still remained in her eye lid and could grow again to form a new carcinoma. Another operation was deemed necessary. We all felt devastated by this news. The nicely healing scar would have to be cut into, the missing piece found and once again removed.

  • How big would the next scar be?
  • What if another piece was left there?
  • How would Tarryn cope with the pain, especially now that she knew how bad it was?

More questions followed –

  • How would the removal of more tissue affect her looks?
  • Would more of the eye lashes be removed and of course the inevitable question –
  • Why me? Why our family?

Advice from one respected doctor said to leave the carcinoma as is, providing one could live with the risk and unknown and deal with the consequences later. These unknowns were the most difficult for us to work through.

  • What if the cancer grew into the eye itself, or into tissue behind the eye?
  • How slow is “slow growing”?
  • What should Tarryn do about her studies?
  • Could she do a teaching practice shortly after another eye operation?

But Tarryn couldn’t live with this uncertainty. The decision to have the second operation was made but the medical aid needed lengthy and conclusive proof that a second operation was necessary. In the mean time, modules of Tarryn’s studies which she was doing by correspondence, had to be put on hold, and eventually four of her subjects had to be postponed to this year so she could do only the most urgent of the work.

Eventually the medical aid gave the go-ahead for the second operation. Prayer help was enlisted before the time and we prepared better, using the experience gained from the first operation. To our amazement, she experienced little pain, only discomfort as the stitches rubbed against her eyeball. Her recovery period was much shorter, and the pathologist declared the tissue on either side of the incision to be clear. Tarrryn has had her six monthly check-up, and the tissue looks healthy. As much of her teaching is outdoors, she wears sunglasses and uses creams with high UV protection. Then as a final tribute to God’s goodness and mercy to us , when Tarryn was at the GP, the doctor asked how the operation had gone.

She looked at the slight scar and space where one eyelash is missing and remarked, “Hmm, the doctor did a good job. If he had cut the muscle that runs just under the eye, the bottom eyelid would gape and you would have to put drops in for the rest of your life!” Sometimes one realises the grace that God gives in a situation that we are quite unaware of until brought face to face with the possibilities of how much could have gone wrong.    

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