Monday, 27 June 2011 16:28

Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco Writes About Personal Eye Cancer Treatment Choices

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Kathleen BlancoOn Sunday January 27, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco posted on her electronic journal and, the decisions she has had to make regarding obtaining treatment for her dangerous and rare eye cancer.

Below is her latest electronic journal

Dear Friends and Loved Ones:

Thank you again, for the prayers and support that you are sending my way.  My life has certainly taken a new turn since May 31st (coincidentally my daughter Nicole's birthday),  when I visited Dr.Chip LaHaye, here in my hometown of Lafayette intending to schedule cataract surgery with optimistic expectations of having clearer vision. 

During his pre-op exam Dr. LaHaye found a growth in  my eye. This visit suddenly turned into a startling diagnosis of a cancer inside one of my eyes.  He sent me to Dr. Blem, a retina specialist, for a second opinion where Dr. LaHaye's diagnosis was confirmed.  Both doctors told me this is a dangerous melanoma and Dr. Blem immediately scheduled an appointment for me at MD Anderson for the next day.

Raymond, Monique and I drove to Houston where for the next two days I underwent many more eye tests, xrays, blood work, a CT scan and an MRI..whew!!

Dr. Gombos, the opthalmalogist there confirmed the diagnosis and explained the risks and choices that I had to make and suggested I get 2nd or even 3rd opinions from doctors in Memphis and or Boston to choose my course of treatment.  My tumor was described as medium sized which then gave me the personal choice of treatment options. 

That was the really hard part...choosing my treatment.  When I left Lafayette for Houston I clearly thought I would have my eye removed which would perhaps give me a better long term prognosis for avoiding future complications.  The track this melanoma generally takes if it moves from the eye is to metastasize directly to the liver, which of couse is dangerous. 

I learned of two other treatment options:  plaque radiation and proton radiation which essentially would give me a chance to retain my eye and some vision for some period of time.  I also learned that removing my eye (called enucleation) would not give me any greater warranty against future metastasis than radiation.

I returned to Lafayette Thursday evening and began intensive research regarding treatment for choroidal melanoma.  I talked to Drs. Barrett Haik and Matt Wilson in Memphis and scheduled an appointment with Dr. Haik at the Hamilton Eye Institute in Memphis for the following Monday. 

Raymond, Aprill and Monique traveled to Memphis with me. Our visit with Dr. Haik was honest and forthright though he essentially reviewed the same things I had heard at MD Anderson. When one is told you have something rare and dangerous, information from professionals in the field bears repeating so there are no misinterpretations.  For that I thank Dr. Haik.  He gave us a comprehensive overview of the disease, treatment options and possible ramifications, then patiently answered the questions on the long questionnaire I had prepared over the weekend before our visit. He also answered my travel team's many questions and offered to go to Boston with me to visit Dr. Gragoudous to help me determine the best course of treatment for my particular case. 

My next call was to schedule an appointment with Dr. Gragoudous who works with proton therapy. His team uses the Harvard Cyclotron to deliver radiation in brief but precisly aimed doses into tumors of the eye.  He agreed to see me.  The treatment steps are somewhat different and take a significant number of days. I decided not to travel to Boston, but Dr. Haik consulted with the doctors there and discussed the particulars of my case. 

 As I was now more than one week into my diagnosis and had been immersed in gathering information on choroidal melanoma day-in and day-out, also consulting with Dr. LaHaye and other doctors here, I became impatient wanting this cancer to be treated quickly. I had good choices between MD Anderson and Hamilton Eye Institute.  

I chose Memphis because I could get onto Dr. Wilson's schedule fastest and the treatment would beging attacking the cancer cells that had taken up house in my eye.  I just wanted those cancer cells to die and die asap.

So my procedure was scheduled for the 13th, two weeks after the diagnosis. My travel team grew. Four of my five children came to Memphis to be with me and Raymond for the procedure. Dr. Wilson patiently answered questions from Karmen, Monique, Nicole and Ray. Pilar wanted to come from Minnesota, but Raymond suggested she wait. All had to keep their distance from me to avoid radiation exposure, so Nicole and Ray left after they saw I was okay.  Monique stayed a couple of extra days, Karmen was my nurse for the entire stay and Raymond was my cheer leader, keeping my spirits up. 

I chose the plaque radiation instead of enucleation and with a patch on my affected eye, I  learned how challenging it is to operate with one eye.  After one week the plaque was removed.  I must admit that it was far more tolerable than I would ever have imagined to have a piece of metal sewn onto my eye.

We have been home since Wednesday and I look like the "red eye special".  I have some vision and it should be gradually improving.  I believe my chances are really good for beating this cancer, but like all cancer survivors, I will be having semi-annual tests for years to come, and at least annually for life to monitor if mischief is afoot. 

I cannot help but remind all to have a good eye exam that involves dilating your eyes.  Of course none of us wants a cancer, but if you happen to get one, you want to know about it sooner rather than later because odds of survival are much greater.

FYI:  Dr. Barrett Haik, Chair of the UT Health Science Center and the Director of the University of Tennessee Hamilton Eye Institute in Memphis (yes you curious Lafayette, New Iberia and New Orleans folks) has  much family in South Louisiana, is a cousin to Dicky and Ted Haik and Suzie Haik Terrell is his sister. 

All of the doctors I talked to have been outstanding.  There are only 12 doctors in the country who specialize in treating  these cancers of the eye and I know I consulted with some of the best.

The recovery process is gradual and my eye does get tired, forcing me to rest more than I ever have in my life. My sister Priscilla has come from her home in Washington state to help me for a few days.  Special thanks to her and her husband John who willingly sent her to me despite his own recovery from hip surgery.  Thank  you John!

Special thanks to those of you who have shared your experience with this particular cancer.  You give me hope and encouragement that I too can deal with it and beat it! 

To my friends, old and new, please keep me in your prayers. I firmly believe in the healing power of prayer.  God love and protect all of you!!


Kathleen Babineaux Blanco


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