A routine eye test proved the start of a devastating disovery for a Sussex mum.
Nursery worker Louise Stokes noticed what she thought was a ‘speck’ in her eye, but it was not until six months later - after a string of repeated visits to opticians and medics - that she was shocked to discover that it was cancer.
In fact it was an extremely rare form of the disease - ocular melanoma. “It is such a rare cancer that affects few people yearly that even health professionals do not come into contact with it in their lifetimes,” said Louise, 49.
“When I first found out it was a complete shock. I didn’t even know you could get cancer in your eye. It was very frightening and frustrating that it had taken so long for the diagnosis to be made.”
Three weeks later - and nearly six months after her first eye check - Louise was at the specialist Moorfields Hospital where she underwent an operation to remove her eye as the tumour was too big to be treated.
She now has to undergo ultra sound and blood tests every six months to check that the cancer has not spread.
Meanwhile, she’s working hard to raise awareness of ocular melanoma. “After seeing opticians and doctors for six months I couldn’t understand how they could have missed it. But it’s so rare.”
Louise, who works at St Mary’s pre-school in Horsham, has been supported through her illness by her family - husband Matthew, daughter Abi, 13, stepdaughter Emily and stepson Paul, along with OcuMel, a charity that supports patients and carers with eye cancer - “it is fantastic,” she says.
Every year it holds a ‘National Eye Patch Day’ and for the last two years Louise has celebrated the day by having an ‘eye week’ with children at the nursery.
“During this week we read stories, role play opticians, make eye biscuits, decorate patches, have obstacle courses wearing patches and generally talk about how special our eyes are and looking after them,’ said Louise.
This year National Eye Patch Day is on Saturday May 19 and Louise is marking it by climbing Snowdon with her husband Matthew along with a group of fellow ‘eye friends’ to raise money.
She is also hoping to take the children on visits to a local opticians and have their own version of the Snowdon climb by climbing up Denne Hill in Horsham - all wearing eye patches.