Katie's Story

Throughout Melanoma Awareness Month, the MRF is sharing the stories of patients who have caught their melanoma through skin checks and eye exams. This is why it's important for everyone to #GetNaked and #EyeGetDilated, it may save your life. Head back to the MRF's main page to read other patient stories in the coming weeks.

My ocular melanoma diagnosis is my opportunity to spread hope.

In May of 2013, on the way to my ophthalmologist appointment, my left bra strap unhooked. I said to myself, “Well…hopefully that’s the worst thing that happens to me today.” I always visited my ophthalmologist regularly, mostly to get my contacts prescription but this time was different – I had noticed my lower left peripheral vision was disappearing. On top of that, I noticed a black line dancing across my windshield while driving myself and a coworker to a client meeting. When she didn’t see the line, I decided to make an appointment with my eye doctor.

I was given a worrisome referral to a specialist after my ophthalmologist noticed a bump on my retina. I prayed that I didn’t have a retinal tear or macular degeneration, which runs in my family. The news I would receive that day, unfortunately, would be very different.

The specialist dilated my eyes - for the second time that day, and to his and my surprise, found ocular melanoma in my left eye. I was at a complete loss for words – the only thing I could think about was my mom, who I lost to pancreatic cancer when I was young. I knew that I could lean on my wonderful, supportive family during this difficult time, but there was no hiding the fact that I was scared.

"Because of organizations like the MRF, patients like me have a community, a voice and a hope for a cure."

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Luckily, after further testing, my ocular melanoma was classified as Stage 1A. I had caught it early. Following a week of radiation therapy that left me blind in my left eye, I was considered cancer-free with only a 2 percent chance of recurrence. After what was the biggest whirlwind of my life, and even though I was grieving the loss of my eyesight, I couldn’t have been more relieved. In just 22 days, I had become a cancer survivor.

Fast forward to November of 2014. I had kept up with regular visits to my eye doctor, continued working and as luck would have it, met the love of my life, Nick. That November, I went back in to the doctor for a routine scan when they noticed something suspicious on my liver. My stomach dropped. Later that afternoon, just two days before Thanksgiving, my oncologist called to confirm my melanoma had spread to my liver and was diagnosed as Stage IV.

On Thanksgiving, Nick proposed to me in front of my entire family. Since that moment, I have not stopped fighting. Over the next several weeks, I enrolled in a clinical trial in New York City, away from my friends and family in Denver. Oh, and I also planned a wedding. In February of 2015, Nick and I were married. For the next few months I continued to travel to New York for appointments.

Then I found the Melanoma Research Foundation’s #EyeGetDilated campaign that brings awareness to ocular melanoma. Knowing that there is a community of people who know what I’m going through and are working hard to bring attention to this rare form of melanoma is extremely comforting and motivating. It’s important for me to encourage my friends and family to get dilated eye exams because when most people think of melanoma, they think of their skin. However, ocular melanoma accounts for 5-12 percent of all melanoma cases. While it is a rare disease, it is still definitely more common than people think.

Since my second diagnosis, I have entered three clinical trials and endured two liver embolization procedures that are aimed at shrinking tumors. While this process has been emotionally, physically and mentally exhausting, I have so many reasons to stay positive. My amazing family and husband have kept me going when I didn’t think I could. May 16 will mark four years since my initial ocular melanoma diagnosis. I will  be participating in Melanoma Awareness Month with the MRF and I encourage you all to join me! Because of organizations like the MRF, patients like me have a community, a voice and a hope for a cure.