Michele (Alias)

Michele is a wife and mother with a four-year-old daughter and a one-year-old son. While pregnant with her daughter, Michele found out she had a tumor in her left eye. Michele had four surgeries to remove the tumor and stabilize her vision, all while pregnant with her unborn daughter.

Though Michele lost most of her vision in her left eye, her daughter was born healthy.Through the surgeries and pregnancy, Michele was humbled by all the support she received. Michele felt blessed; her loved ones did everything they could for her when she needed it most.

When Michele noticed a floater in her left eye she wasn’t worried. She was sure the next day it’d be gone.

“I was like, ‘it’s nothing’.”

Michele was not one to exaggerate issues, but her husband Don was concerned, and he urged her to get it checked out.

The next day came and the floater was still there. Don urged her again, but Michele still wasn’t convinced. She asked her brother, a doctor.

Michele was surprised when her brother repeated Don’s worry:

“You should probably get it checked out.”

Her brother’s warning concerned Michele, so she scheduled an appointment with her optometrist. In a single day Michele saw four physicians, the last was a retinal specialist.

After all the appointments, the tumor was finally diagnosed and the stress began to snowball.

The specialist was not sure what type of tumor it was and whether it would spread. That uncertainty caused even more worry.

Aside from the floater caused by the tumor, Michele’s vision was not affected. In the end Michele was told that they just needed to keep an eye on it.

“I’m pretty casual about stuff. And it wasn’t doing anything yet.”

Michele remained calm. She kept a balanced perspective in light of the diagnosis and the timing.

“My friend had a brain tumor, and I only had an eye tumor. This was nothing.”

Michele did not bother her loved ones for help. She wanted to convince others and herself that the tumor would be no issue.

On the other hand, Michele’s ophthalmologist was intrigued by her tumor.

“You’re such a rare case,” he had told her. He was busy taking pictures to document her progression.

Michele was so swept up in the flurry of check-ups and exams she never thought to ask what would happen next.

Not long after it was found that the tumor had to be removed.  Michele was assigned another ophthalmologist for the procedure.

Michele’s new doctor explained to her what they needed to do, and why they were doing it. He encouraged her to search online to learn about what she was going through.

“I had a lot of questions. I looked online, and he drew me diagrams. I even watched the procedure online.. which I probably shouldn’t have.”

Michele laughed, admitting some things we do not have to see.

Nevertheless, for Michele the relationship outside of the treatment was everything.

“You want to trust your doctor. You want to know what’s going on and feel good about those decisions.”

The previous ophthalmologist was worked as if he was studying a subject in his field. In contrast the new ophthalmologist was tending an individual that needed care and reassurance. This change in the patient-doctor relationship made Michele an active participant in her treatment process.

“As a patient you have no idea, it makes a huge difference.”

Michele felt she could not have asked for a better ophthalmologist, but the treatment was still difficult.

“Four surgeries in four months. It was just brutal, really brutal.”

The tumor was removed, but the resulting scar tissue detached Michele’s retina, and extra procedures were necessary to reattach her retina.

After each procedure Michele had to lie face down for over a week. She went through a lot in those months, but she didn’t go through it alone.

“My mom went to all my surgeries.”

“I felt very lucky that I didn’t really have to ask for any help. They were just ready to give it.”

Michele has two sisters and a brother as well. They were each there for Michele and gave all the support Michele needed.

Her brother read medical articles related to her condition. Some he summarized for Michele, and others he shared with her knowing they would help.

One of Michele’s sisters even made a special brace so she could sit in a chair.

“It was really nice, and it was so thoughtful. But it wasn’t really.. comfortable. Nothing makes it comfortable.”

Michele’s doctor showed Michele a few ways to lie while recovering. She found that helpful, but there were too many hours in a day, and there was too little to do.

“After a few hours it’s like.. I need company. I need something to eat!”

Michele was not one to ask for much. It is hard to ask for help, and it can hurt to expect it.

“It felt strange to reach out. But I think reaching out is really helpful. People surprise you.”

“I felt very lucky that I didn’t really have to ask for any help. They were just ready to give it.”

Michele’s family made sure she had everything she needed, but some things MIchele had to do on her own. Without understanding her treatment and the recovery, Michele would not have kept to what she needed to do. Michele appreciated her doctor because he emphasized her role in her own healing process. This made Michele help herself and it also made the treatments more hopeful.

“It was really helpful. Feeling good about going into appointments, answering all my questions. Having thoughtful conversations about what was going on. Even just being available meant a lot.”

Michele’s eye healed due to successful treatments, but Michele recovered because of the love and support she received.

Her family’s annual Lake Tahoe trip was scheduled on the last days of her recovery. Michele was worried she would not make it because the altitude would affect the pressure in her eye, complicating her recovery.

“We go every year, and I didn’t think I would be able to go.”

In the end you just roll with the punches, ‘cause you have to. And I don’t think you know what that’s like until you actually have to do it.

At first everything is different, then you get used to it. And it’s normal now, I don’t feel like I’m limited by anything.

Michele brought it up to her doctor, and he said it was safe to try with some precautions.

“We made a game plan on how to get up there. Maps and exits.. we were going to check my pressure along the way.”

Michele’s doctor packed medical supplies that Michele may need for the trip. She felt prepared, and they all left with peace of mind.

Michele called her doctor along the way to check in and gauge whether they should turn back.

They checked at every stop, and fortunately her pressure was fine.

Michele was free to enjoy the trip with her family, and that meant a lot to Michele.  

For a while life was crashing down on Michele, but the love of her family and Michele’s own commitment to recover got her through it all.

Though her recovery went well, Michele still experienced loss. The procedures took the lens from her left eye, losing a majority of its vision. But otherwise Michele recovered, and her daughter was born healthy.

“I still convince myself, I know it sucks. I wish I had vision in my left eye. But in the scheme of things, I’m fine.”

Michele does not bike anymore, because she feels it is too risky. Even pouring her daughter a glass of milk proved difficult.

Michele was humble, and though she struggled for a while, she adapted.

“In the end you just roll with the punches, ‘cause you have to. And I don’t think you know what that’s like until you actually have to do it.”

“At first everything is different, then you get used to it. And it’s normal now, I don’t feel like I’m limited by anything.”

Michele confessed that sometimes when she dwells on her vision she feels sad. But because of her family, Michele is optimistic:

“Day-to-day I don’t think about it.”

Michele smiled. Her daughter had been watching a movie upstairs. The movie had ended, and Don and their daughter walked downstairs.

“Want to come down?” Michele called softly.

“Hi mommy!” their daughter cheered. Michele’s sense of loss faded and love filled the room.