After losing her eye to a rare form of cancer, an Australian woman wants to raise awareness and further understanding of this potentially fatal disease.
In January 2015, Jessica Van Zeil was diagnosed with a special form of ocular melanoma. For years, she had a red spot on her eye that gradually worsened as time went on.
Her first surgery was in 2013, but it wasn’t until years later that her conditioned degenerated.
“The results from my first surgery came back as benign, but soon I developed these three small brown lumps over my eye,” Van Zeil explained, reports the Daily Mail. “When I had the surgery to have these removed they came back as being positive melanoma.”
On Oct. 9, 2015, that she underwent a life-saving surgery that resulted in the removal of her left eye and eyelids, and the closure of her eye socket.
“I had six surgeries in total, but in the end I had no other option but to have the eye removed,” she explained. “Doctors believed that the disease would spread to the rest of my body if I didn’t have it removed and I had the final operation last October.”
Although she knew there was a possibility to having to undergo more extreme surgery, the 22-year-old says she did not realize the extent of the procedures that awaited her, and that she would not even have a glass eye. She struggled to come to terms with the fact that she would be different after the surgery.
“My doctor told me that if I wanted to still be around in five years time talking to him then I would just have to have this procedure done,” Van Zeil recalled. “I’d tried everything so I felt defeated when I heard this.”
According to Melanoma Institute Australia, Australians suffer from the highest rate of melanoma in the world. Approximately 30 Australians are diagnosed daily and more than 1,200 die from melanoma every year.
Van Zeil has devoted herself to raising awareness about the dangers of melanoma and is involved in various organizations, such as the Melanoma March. Although Van Zeil had a rare form of the disease, many forms of melanoma can be prevented with adequate sun protection.
"Just because I couldn’t do anything about my case doesn’t mean that other people my age can’t take preventive measures themselves,” she said.