Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Cancer Residue: Being the Girl with a Glass Eye

Thanks so much to my beautiful friend Amy for editing this for me. 

I found it so hard to make these words work. I'm not a writer, I was asked to leave my Extension English class in my final year of high school. Yet when attempting to get this out - I wish i'd worked harder and learnt more rather than skipping class to perfect my tan at the beach (but seriously, who put the H.S.C exams in the middle of an Aussie summer... oh that's right... they didn't. Whatevs)

Please excuse the crassness of the opening paragraph- it's the only way I can explain how vulnerable this post makes me. 

I'll be posting this story in two sections. 


photo by tim


I have a vivid memory of being in Year Two  at school and giving 'news' to the class each week. At some point, someone (whether it was my teacher, parents or a medical professional) suggested that
I make a news presentation about how an artificial eye was made and what it was like to have one.





I can so clearly recall my visceral reaction to this suggestion; I felt sick. And I considered the individual who suggested it completely and utterly brain dead. For me, talking about my empty eye socket and the small shell of plastic that it holds is like talking about my vagina. It's rude and private and you just don't do it. Can you imagine showing up to Year Two news with a model of a vagina and explaining how it worked, what it looked like and how it felt? No? I couldn’t either.

But here we are a couple of decades later and this time I'm going to do it. I’m going to tell you the story of my eye, how I came to lose it and the replacement eye that was built for me.


… 



I lost my right eye to cancer when I was 18 months old.

I don't remember being in hospital or those early operations that my mum talked about here. In my mind the happy memories are the most powerful. I felt loved, secure, valuable and cherished.
I wanted for nothing. My childhood was blessed, and the stories I am about to tell you have only enhanced my experience of life and the goodness of my Creator.

My innocence was protected by my parents and I was blissfully unaware of how my cancer ordeal affected our family. My brother and I spent our days rolling down grassy hills, making cubbies out
of 1970's sheet sets and falling asleep under the blue sails of our dad's big, old catamaran. Jelly fish below, warm winter sun above - all the time, every day. At least that’s how I remember it.

However, these childhood joys were punctuated with nervous drives down the freeway to the smokey city. This is where the regular tests were performed, all in the hope of confirming that the
cancer had left my body once and for all. Eventually, thankfully and wonderfully, we found that it had.

When the all clear was given the annual visit to the Westmead children’s hospital could finally be wiped from the 'to do' list. With it, the last tendrils of anxiety that there could be more of the frightening 'C word' in my body were banished.

I remember it was in a stone, federation building that I first realised having a prosthetic eye wasn't as normal to others as it was to me.

It was in a second story classroom with french windows that a nameless, faceless child called me a 'one eyed tazz'. I didn't know what a 'tazz' was but I fully understood it was meant to humiliate me. It worked. 

Somewhere around this time, when I was still in infant’s school, I started having the typical reoccurring dream. The one where you would turn up to school stark naked and everyone would point and laugh. Except in my dream I would arrive at school, stand in the assembly lines and my artificial eye would fall out and roll into the nearest drain, never to be seen again. I would be exposed in front of everyone.

So great was my fear that I loathed the thought of ever actually receiving a merit certificate and making the long and dreaded journey to the front of those assembly lines, lest my dream became a reality.

It didn't take me long to realise that a quick wit and a mean tongue was my best protection against almost any verbal assault that a ten year old could offer. I grew a thick skin, made good friends and relied on others being too kind or too timid to mock me.

Despite my anxieties, it wasn’t really the social aspect of being the kid with a glass eye that hurt the most. It was the behind the scenes stuff that the other kids didn’t see or understand. The doctors’ visits and wax moulds forming the shape of prosthetic eyes; the inky eye drops used to dilate my pupils that caused the most disorienting blurry vision; the waiting rooms filled with other sick kids, hospital smells and tension.

As a kid, it was in these quiet, solitary moments that I felt weakest. In those moments, my harsh words and a steely demeanour couldn’t distract me from the physical and emotional discomfort of
being different.

These tests were draining and painful beyond belief. It was boring, isolating and confusing. I felt alien and defective. If tears and tantrums could have taken it all away, it would have vanished from
our lives immediately. That was the hard part. I learned how to handle this 'one eyed tazz' shit but please, please don't take me into a quiet room and fill my eye socket with that wax again.

Without realising it, I got angry. I worked hard as kid to make the whole ordeal as unpleasant for everyone around me as it was for me. My fury at being poked and prodded was palpable. While I
couldn't quite grasp who I was actually angry at, it was those closest to me who felt the brunt of it. My loyal Mum wouldn't tell it that way though- she would insist that I was patient, tolerant and
gracious, but I can say with complete and utter conviction that I was far from gracious. I was a scared and frustrated during those visits and hated everything about being in that Doctors office.

I don't miss going there.

Once the medical appointments finally ceased I was left with the biannual visits to the artificial eye maker. These continued through my angsty adolescence where 'glass eye' issues gave way to
far more pressing ones, like would a boy ever want to kiss me, what was the best way to conceal unwanted acne and who could I get to buy me some alcohol before the next party.


I had great friends during this time (some I'm lucky enough to still call besties today) that offered support and companionship when the world seemed terribly bleak for reasons completely unrelated to the small piece of plastic sitting in my face.









The next section of this story includes Dave's response to finding out about my eye and what it was like to return to the classroom, but this time, as a teacher.




If you'd like some context, read this.
If you'd like to read my mum's story about having a baby with cancer you can do so here.
To read my life's story minus the cancer/eye saga read here.


41 comments:

  1. What an amazing story.
    You must have been such a strong girl and such a strong adolescent...and now such a strong woman!
    Thank you for sharing.

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  2. Complete and utter truth - I never noticed your glass eye until year 9. I only saw you x

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  3. What an impact you will have in your childrens lives. It takes a brave person to go through this but a strong woman to retell it. May God bless you, Dave and your children.

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  4. I think you just received that merit certificate, em. and the whole auditorium is applauding YOU. such beautiful photos to share x

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  5. Tears here. Couldn't help crying, then trying to hold back sobs when you got to the poking and prodding. Very well told. As Tahnee said, you just received the merit certificate.

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  6. thank you for telling me your story. i'll keep thinking of it for a whole lot more this afternoon. amazing words em. shocking and uplifting. the photos are just beautiful too. tim's especially so in the context of the post. seriously i am in awe. with love xXx

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  7. Very proud to know you and call you my friend. A brave and beautiful post Em. Xx

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  8. Being different. Those two words, said by so many, maybe everyone, for so many different reasons... those two words still speak volumes. Your pain hurts to read, a little bit. I am lucky because I know this story has a happy ending, but perhaps a little of that pain remains.

    I never noticed in your photos on your blog, as you know. I don't think I would notice anyway, Em. I only saw your smile.

    x

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    1. Of course the pain remains Bron. I don't expect myself to ever speak of these tails and not feel it.

      Yes, everyone is made to feel isolated for being different, especially as a child. This is my story of it.

      xo em

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  9. This post shouldn't make you vulnerable, Em. You are strong and honest and beautiful... I feel as though you're invincible. Let nothing bring you down...



    ...ya tazz ;)

    xx big love xx

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  10. I would never have picked it from your photos. All I see is a pretty girl. Kids will always pounce on something different or make it up. I got teased the whole way through school, being called Aboriginal and other related nasties for having olive skin. My family tree is actually made up of English/Irish.

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  11. you're amazing! thanks so much for sharing.

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  12. a wonderful post, and i love the honesty. i had really bad asthma as a child (obv no where near as horrible as cancer) but i used to have to go to hospital and the doctors quite a lot.... so your post took me back to those days. the photos are beautiful.x

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  13. Thanks for telling your story - I would never have known from your picture. Full marks for bravery in sharing xox

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  14. Quietly in love with you. You are so bloody beautiful .... how's your parents in those early photos, my goodness.

    Love the way you wrote this, and that you wrote this.

    Thank you for your email .. meant the world. Hope your flu is easing.

    XXXXXX

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  15. Thanks for sharing ♥ I sure hope they didn't put hot wax in your eye socket, that was my first thought when I read that... Shame on kids for making you feel alien. My girls watched "The Soloist" (a true story about a brilliant man who studied music at Julliard and now lives on the street and plays his violin) with us and I hope it instills in them an understanding of all people, to be kind to everyone, because we don't know where they've come from or their history. I look forward to reading your husband's point of view!!!

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    1. we've watched that film- it's truly amazing and so moving. How wonderful for your children to watch it with you!

      No not hot wax- just like the wax you would put in your ears to keep the water from getting in

      xo em

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  16. Quite the contrary Em, I think you are very much a writer and this beautifully emotive piece just proves that. I think you are brave beyond words and a gorgeous soul to boot. I would have been angry at life if it had subjected me to what you went through too. In all honesty, even when I look at your pics now and knowing the history of your eye, I still cannot tell, because you have a stunning face. You have a warmth and understanding and cheekiness about you, that is a wonderful credit to your parents, family and friends. A little boy in Angus' preschool class has a glass eye and it is quite noticeable. My heart breaks a little every time I see him. That fierce maternal instinct kicks in and I just wish I could protect them all from the hard, sometimes brutal school years ahead. If only we could all stay as innocent and accepting as 3 and 4 years olds, the world would be a nicer place. Thanks for sharing this extremely personal part of your life Em xoxo

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    1. you are the best Julie- I can't stress that enough

      xo em

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  17. I must agree with what others above have said - you wouldn't even know from your photos what you were dealing with. You were such an adorable baby, a cute little girl, a stunning teenager and your radiant smile and attractiveness shines through just as much in your recent photos. Thank you for sharing this part of your story with us x

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  18. How brave to revisit those memories and share them here. What a brave a beautiful lady you are.

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  19. You're just amazing, Em. Thank for sharing such precious words…
    Ronnie xo

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  20. Thank you for sharing you beautiful lady.

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  21. Thank you for this honest post. I'm truly touched by your story and the inevitable strength it has given you. You are such a beautiful woman, made more so by your life story.
    Sarah xx

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  22. Thank you for sharing your story, thank you for sharing this part of you.

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  23. You write beautifully and movingly. The main reason I visit your blog is for your writing, especially your wit and sense of humour. Thanks for sharing such an honest post. x

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    1. thank you for your kind works Gillian

      xo me

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  24. Your strength is amazing. Thank you for sharing such an honest, heartfelt story. x

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  25. The most beautiful post, Em; and the very, very best kind of outcome - cancer-free. I know that you must have put your heart on the line to write this history; so proud of you for having the courage to share it!

    x

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  26. So beautifully written, thank you for baring such deep private pieces of yourself. These things that change our path and make us who we are can be a hard and angry road. Lots of love and appreciation for your bravery in sharing you.

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  27. Thankyou for sharing your story! I loved your pics your very beautiful and brave!

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  28. I had forgotten that I had a girl in my Year 8 class who had a glass eye (over 45 years ago), until you mentioned your story. Thank you for sharing.

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  29. great story I look forward to installment too - and I get that vulnerable sharing thing - it's big

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  30. I'm really glad I got to read this. But you're very wrong about not being a writer. Your words are why I come back. It's colourful, inspired writing.

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  31. I cannot even begin to say how brave, inspiring, and amazing you are.

    You write beautifully, and your words are reflection of how beautiful you are as a person, inside and out. x

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  32. Amazing blog. I like reading your story. I really like it, and thanks to your friend. Thanks a lot for sharing the amazing and interesting blog. Keep sharing.

    http://artificialeyeco.com

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Thanks so much for your words of encouragement, advice and solidarity.

xo em