In my last post about pulling your own strings, I described my visit to the eye doctor, where I dismissed the offer of a retinal scan because I viewed it simply as another revenue stream for the medical practice. I also dismissed dilation because I was too busy.
Check out the comments. Cameron said, "There is no way to see some serious problems at the back of the eye without dilation. I have had cataracts, an injured retina and multiple major eye surgeries. Two of my problems would have been missed if I had had a superficial exam."
Jeanette wrote, "I was diagnosed with glaucoma at age 55 and am now on a three eye drops per day regimen to save my eyesight. A routine superficial eye exam wouldn't have revealed the problem."
I was beginning to think I had this all wrong when I received this email from a long-time reader who is 53 years old. To protect her privacy, we'll call her Anne.
I’m all for pulling my own strings. My past medical history is a testament to that. I seem to annoy specialists because I won’t do what they tell me, simply because I don’t think they have all the answers or even the correct answer often. One specialist sacked me as a patient because I wouldn’t go along with his methods and I dared to challenge him on his medical knowledge. With the influence of pharmaceutical companies and each doctor peddling their preferred instrument of torture, I find it easy to walk away and feel as though I retain a sense of control of my own health at some level.
Validation. I'm thinking, whew, I'm not as wrong as I thought. But Anne continues.
I would like to share with you that I too had been offered the retinal scan over the years and rejected it. I felt it was another money maker for them. A few months ago I decided, “What the heck,” and paid the $25.
It showed a choroidal melanoma. Eye cancer. Five in a million chance.
P.S. I have attached a photo of my eye cancer.
The cancer is the large grey area between the optic nerve (large white dot) and the macular (black dot).
As you may have heard me say before, there are no good cancers. Choroidal melanoma is a bad actor with a high mortality rate. According to Medscape, about 30-50 percent of patients with choroidal melanoma will die within 10 years from diagnosis and treatment. Death is usually secondary to distant metastases such as the liver.
So much for thinking I had this business of pulling your own strings figured out. I am alive today because great medical practitioners properly treated me for advanced stage ovarian cancer. But they might have discovered it in its early stages and given me a better prospect for long life if they hadn't fucked around so long in the months years leading up to my diagnosis. If I knew then what I know now, I might have been diagnosed at stage 1 rather than stage 3c, the last stop before stage 4, which really is the last stop.
Some of the other comments on the last post mirror my own exasperation with doctors. And those comments are just as valid -- thank you for sharing them. We have all had close encounters of the worst medical kind, and your perspective is welcome!
None of this is easy. While we do need to be sharp consumers, it's so hard to know which end is up. The dentist has now slipped in an extra fee for an "oral cancer" exam. Insurance doesn't pay for it -- it's instant cash for the dentist. But somebody's life may be saved because they had the exam. Same with the retinal scanning. Look at what happened to Anne.
Still, as much as I care about my health and want to be smart about my choices, I don't want to live my life in fear. I'm not signing up for the full-body CT scans I see advertised in the newspaper. There is such a thing as medical gluttony. Somehow we need to find the balance between being proactive and being paranoid.
Thank you, readers, for the enlightenment. I'm sorry I didn't think about people whose lives have been altered or saved by competent medical professionals -- including eye doctors. I should know better. That said, this has been an illuminating discussion, and in a way, I'm glad I was wrong. Sometimes being wrong and being willing to talk about it takes you to new places, and maybe we all walk away with a more balanced perspective.
And thank you, Anne, for sharing your cancer story. Welcome to the club nobody wants to join. In case you haven't already read this, be sure to check out Stephen Jay Gould's, The Median Isn't the Message.
Here's to you, Anne, and to defying the odds!