Uveal melanoma survivor: Specialized treatment saved both my eyesight and my life

When my prescription reading glasses snapped in two without warning in November 2016, I had no idea how much my life was about to change.

I went to a local optometrist in Austin, thinking I’d get a quick replacement after a cursory checkup. But a few minutes into the exam, the doctor gave me some sobering news: the cloudiness in my left eye was actually a small lesion on the retina, the inner lining of the eyeball. It was likely cancer. I needed to see an ophthalmologist right away — and possibly an oncologist.

I was shocked, but I did what he suggested. The specialist I saw the next day confirmed the optometrist’s suspicions: I had uveal melanoma, a rare type of eye cancer. She referred me to Dr. Dan Gombos, an MD Anderson eye cancer specialist. And thanks to him and MD Anderson, my eyes are fine today, and I am cancer-free.

My uveal melanoma diagnosis

In just five short days, I’d gone from “life is great” to “I have cancer.” Before that, I’d been a busy, physically active husband and father with absolutely zero symptoms, living what I thought was a normal life. Then, I joined the league of those with a cancer diagnosis. That night, I wept.

My wife and I told our 16-year-old daughter together. I put on the bravest face possible to hide my fear. And I leaned on my faith, family and friends to deal with my own anxiety. Fortunately, MD Anderson was the clear choice for my treatment. Dr. Gombos is a recognized global leader in uveal melanoma, and I soon learned he knew exactly what to do.

My highly specialized uveal melanoma treatment

After completing his examination, Dr. Gombos recommended a type of treatment called plaque brachytherapy. A tiny radioactive seed would be implanted surgically in my eyeball, right next to the tumor. Over the course of five days, it would deliver a steady dose of radiation to the cancer, killing it while minimizing damage to the surrounding healthy tissue. Then, the seed would be removed.

Brachytherapy would give me an excellent chance of retaining both my eye and my vision — which was great news all by itself. But thanks to an early diagnosis, my lesion was also both small and shallow. That made it ideal for treatment with a highly effective isotope called ruthenium. Widely available in Europe, ruthenium is offered only at a few hospitals in the United States. MD Anderson is one of them.

Grateful and eye cancer-free

I had the radioactive seed implanted on Dec. 7, 2016. Dr. Gombos removed it five days later. My eyesight has not been affected. And I’ve been cancer-free ever since.

Today, I’m profoundly grateful for both my eyesight and my good health. I’m not worried about the future. Dr. Gombos and his team gave me hope and confidence. I had a problem, and the most-qualified guy on the planet solved it.

I’ll keep returning to MD Anderson for my checkups. Because every time I do, Dr. Gombos and his wonderful staff remind me that I am in good hands. They reassure me that I’m never alone. And when you’re a patient, that’s everything.

Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.