Cancer affects millions of people right across the world, but many may not realise the huge side effects some of the treatments can have. Now, Marie Peters has recalled how her own treatment caused her to develop cataracts – and her determined journey to get her eyesight back again. Here’s her amazing story, as told by Starts at 60 writers.
I got hit with cancer on two occasions in later life – unfortunately, one of the side effects of the drugs I was given meant I could end up with deteriorating eyesight. At that point, cataracts was something I was aware of and something I checked up with consistently.
I previously worked for the Royal Blind Society in the library and it was quickly made clear to me then just how important eyesight is to everyone. You preserve it at all costs and that’s the way it should be. Every 12 months I would go and have my eyes checked and I eventually noticed a loss of sight. It became blurrier and as an avid book reader, I was aware something was wrong because it was taking me longer to read.
I tracked it with Specsavers because they have the machinery to look behind the eye to check the pressure and to make sure that as soon as things change, you continue to get the further treatment you need. You get sent to an eye doctor and a specialist where they check it all out and give you plans on what they think should happen.
The first step in my eye journey was to get laser surgery – which worked – but a major consequence of that was that the cataracts grew quicker. I was referred to an eye clinic at the hospital and the ophthalmologist did a range of other tests on my eyes.
They were painless, very simple tests and they weren’t an issue. There was different machinery and he looked at the back of my eye which was no big deal and over and done with like a check-up with your doctor. It was nothing to be scared of or upset about, it was just one of those things where they can see more than we can.
I had the laser surgery first and in 12 months I had another check up with the ophthalmologist to trace how the cataracts moved. He said, ‘It’s surgery time’. We went through all the options of surgery, the different lenses involved, and what the outcome would be.
The operation itself is very simple, it’s a day surgery and it’s over very quickly. You’re actually sitting up for the surgery, fully-clothed. They don’t put you under completely, it’s a case of a little bee-sting in the hand and you wake up 20 minutes later and everything’s finished. It’s very quick and recovery is exceptionally quick. Your eyes feel a little bit gritty and there’s drops every four hours for a whole month or so, which is a little annoying but necessary.
What they’re actually doing is taking a lens out and putting a lens in. The operation, no matter how bad the cataract is, is still the same. It all depends on how people accept and deal with what’s happening to them.
I didn’t ask everything that I should’ve asked before the operation. I play golf two days a week, but now I can’t play for a while. I knew I wouldn’t be able to drive, but I didn’t think it would be so long. After the first cataract surgery, I couldn’t drive for three weeks. I’ve had two done now and the second is only going to be a week.
I was given a whole list of things after the operation I couldn’t do – no heavy lifting or things like that, but just the mundane everyday stuff has a lot of lifting in it. Even changing bed clothes. It’s just not things you think about.
Since surgery, my first eye is absolutely fabulous. The second eye was done a week ago, so I’m still in the process of getting over it. Together, they are absolutely brilliant, I haven’t even had a pair of glasses on. You have a patch when you come out because you’ve got to wear it to bed so you don’t get muck on your eye and within three days your vision starts to get a lot better. It’s not quite instant, but it’s nearly instant.
The only thing you can do if you’re going through this is to talk to the doctor and ask questions. Try and find someone who’s actually gone through it that you know. Even someone you don’t know. Sometimes it’s easier to ask them questions. But talk to them about their experience. The important thing is to take some kind of action because your eyes are just so precious. Being able to read and see and be independent in later life is just so important.