Dana Stewart was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 at the age of 32. She is the co-founder of a cancer survivorship organization called The Dragonfly Angel Society. She volunteers as an advocate and mentor, focusing on young adults surviving cancer. She enjoys writing about life as a cancer survivor, as well as connecting survivors to the resources, inspirations and stories that have helped her continue to live her best life, available at www.dragonflyangelsociety.com.
As it turns out, a side effect of cancer treatment can be cataracts. Over the last two years, I have battled cancer treatment-induced cataracts. The good news is they can be fixed and I can see again!
Cancer and cataracts have a connection. Who knew? I definitely had no clue. And then the unthinkable happened: I was diagnosed with cataracts. About two years ago, I noticed my eyesight started to seem cloudy. Soon after, I noticed just how sensitive my eyes were to bright lights, specifically sunny days. My first thought was to question if there was a potential I was turning into a vampire. What other explanation could there be?
Well, turns out I am not a vampire but still, something was seriously wrong with my eyes. My background story includes cancer. My diagnosis was estrogen-positive breast cancer when I was 32 years old. I was early stage, but the treatment was all but simple. Being as young as I was, it meant surgeries and it meant chemo….lots of it. Along with that comes a pretty substantial dose of steroids. I remember before my first treatment I received a massive binder of everything that could happen with chemo treatment from secondary cancers to loss of feeling in my fingers or toes, to the obvious hair loss and anything else in between. There is one side effect I don't remember hearing about. And that was — chemo and steroids may cause cataracts.
Now that we have covered my background, let's talk about how that affected my sight. As my eyes were continuing to cloud over at a record pace and my ability to see outside on sunny days was fading fast, I knew I had a problem. Of course, like with many other cancer survivors, my immediate thoughts went to cancer again. Did I have a brain tumor? Was it eye cancer? What was happening? Needless to say, I was terrified. I went to the eye doctor and practically held my breath the entire time worrying that I was going to hear that I had another visit from cancer. The eye doctor knew my history and thankfully didn't brush off my new cancer fears that I was sure was causing my eyesight downfall. When the appointment was wrapping up and all was tested, I got my answer. I had cataracts and they were growing at super speed.
Turns out, according to the eye doctor, the cancer treatment I had could have had a direct effect on the growth of my newly formed cataracts. The news kept getting better as she explained the details of how these cataracts I had were growing quite fast. My thought was what is the treatment outside of surgery and the sad part is there are no eye drops, no food diets and nothing else that can be done to get rid of them. Surgery was my only option. And, my favorite part is I am about as squeamish about eyes as anyone can possible get. Contacts? Forget it. I can't get close to my eye. Eye drops? My nose and cheeks wear eye drops better than my eyes could ever dream. For the life of me, I can't get those things in my eye correctly. As the news of my upcoming surgery was delivered to me, I did the only thing a mature 38-year-old woman could do — I cried. Embarrassing. I never cry, but I think the last time I was that terrified was when I was diagnosed with cancer.
As I watched my eyesight become one big walking cloud, I thought about the inevitable cataract surgery that was looming in my future. I hoped it would just go away, but after two long years it was time to go forward with the procedure. I had gotten to the point where I couldn't get glasses in a stronger prescription. What I needed in terms of strength didn't exist. I was using a large magnifying glass to see everything from the computer screen to my phone to anything else that required sight. I was entertaining walking around my office with my laptop screen as big as it could go with a magnifying glass in one hand and my face pressed to the screen. It was time to take care of my sight.
For the second time in my career as a patient, I was told the ever-famous lines of how young I was for this to happen. Oh yes, I am well aware. If I had a nickel for every time I heard "but you are so young for this to happen to you" I would have enough money to pay off all my medical bills. In the last month, the cataract surgery happened twice — one for each eye. Lucky me, I got to be wide awake (oh and it doesn't hurt at ALL thank goodness). And the best news prevails! I can officially see again, and my eyesight is 20/20 once again. What a glorious turn of events.
The moral of the story is simply that cancer treatment is an amazing thing for cancer patients. And yes, it can cause side-effects, some dramas and evidently cataracts. I haven't come across any other survivors who have had cataracts, but I am sure they are out there. If you are like me, I am here to tell you that the surgery is not as scary as you may think, especially after everything we have already been through. So, clear the clouds and look forward to seeing again if you have cataracts too!