This is the story of my husband Terry Oldfield, a musician and composer who has lost his eye this summer due to the discovery of a Choroidal Melanoma. I hope that this is helpful to others facing the huge challenge of enucleation (Eye Removal) and Monocular vision.
As we age we come face to face with our mortality, and we can see things quite differently. The carefree sense of immortality may either fade into a calm acceptance of the natural ageing process or raise fears around the loss of youth and facing death. This year great artists of our lifetime have passed over including David Bowie, Prince and our beloved Leonard Cohen. Being a 9 year it’s the end of a cycle.
Terry and I talk about growing old gracefully together and happily embrace our declining interest and drive around business and worldly exploits. We have always naturally been drawn toward the esoteric, deeper insights, nature and maintaining balance. Terry had been expressing these sentiments in his recent solo music and I in my writing. Our Namaste Album is reflective of this with sweet mantras and songs of peace. We had an awesome European Tour earlier in 2016 sharing our music in concerts and workshops with open hearted groups in 10 countries. We had then retreated back into our forest home enjoying the nature and deepening into our spiritual practice while continuing to compose and write.
The dictionary defines mortality as a state of impermanence, temporality, transience, ephemerality, impermanency, perishability. From a yogic perspective understanding this and living with full acceptance of the impermanence of all things offers us great freedom. Free of expectations we may live with gratitude for each moment and the gift of presence is ever with us.
Youth offers us a pretty easy ride in this body temple and it usually takes a health scare or wake-up call to bring us face to face with the fragility of life. Abhinivesha is the klesha which is the fear of dying but it may be expanded to the fear of the unknown – one of the deepest fears of humankind.
I am currently watching my mother’s strong spirit fade as cancer withers her body. It’s a tough thing to watch the much loved matriarch of your family shrinking as her body wastes away and suffers in pain. She is finding it a huge challenge that she has to see her body through to the end in such a way. My father bravely lives each day with Parkinson’s Disease, but lovingly cares for my mother as best he can. Yet we are all mortal and will face physical death one day – of this we can be sure. The understanding that ‘we are not this body’ hits us most when this vehicle begins to fail us while our spirit is still strong.
I love the line from the Desiderata: Gracefully surrender the things of youth…
From a yogic perspective the last period of life is a time to delve into deeper seva (service) or sadhana (spiritual practice) such as meditation, contemplation and living with gratitude and surrender to the knowing that all is as it should be. But we’ll explore that later. This blog is to share Terry’s journey with losing half his physical world view.
Just before Christmas Terry discovered he had a malignant choroidal melanoma in his right eye. I still remember we were sitting in the semi-dark sharing some philosophical musings from the day when he said he had been seeing lights flashing across his vision on and off for a few weeks now, and that in this soft light he had a dark spot of obstructed vision.
“Do you think I should get my eyes checked?” he asked.
“Absolutely, tomorrow.” I replied.
It has been a huge and much celebrated year with our European Tour, the launching our new album Namaste – Songs for Peace. I had also published and launched my memoir “Shining Through: From Grief to Gratitude” about shining through the grief and loss of losing my son to suicide. It has been seven years since losing my son and I am now living a life of absolute gratitude. Life I have come to realise can never be taken for granted, each day is a gift.
Terry was aware of a freckle on his right eye which was being checked six monthly by the optician. The next day after examination of the eye the optometrist told him the freckle had doubled in size and changed form. Concerned, he referred Terry on to a specialist immediately. I drove the car to the next appointment as Terry’s pupils were dilated like saucers from the drops administered prior to the eye examination. He was feeling like the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland.
After further examination the specialist announced in a matter of fact way that Terry had a choroidal melanoma, that he was 99% sure was malignant. “I’m Sorry.” He added.
I was standing on the other side of the room. We were leaving for India in a couple of days and this was a real Sneaky Louie. We looked deeply at each other. I felt calm for it seemed surreal. “And how is this treated?” Terry asked.
“I will refer you on to a cancer specialist for eyes, but I think he may suggest enucleation, or removal of the eye. Unfortunately, the melanoma is wrapped around your optic nerve, which makes it more difficult to manage otherwise.”
We explained we were heading to India in a few days to run a retreat and he told us to cancel the retreat and see the specialist as soon as possible. Terry and I walked outside and I held his hand and told him whatever he wanted to do was ok with me.
“Remember our policy though.” I said quietly. “Nothing has to happen in a hurry, don’t be bullied into rushing this.”
“I want to go to India. I need time.” Terry replied clearly.
We made the appointment with the oncology specialist on our return from India and headed home to digest the impact of the news.
The one thing that concerned us more than anything else was whether it had metastasised to other parts of the body. We had been told that Choroidal Melanoma usually moves into the liver and lungs first. To put our minds at rest we immediately organised a PET-CT scan and liver ultrasound. As a mindfulness teacher I understand we only have this moment now and this is the gift.
Thankfully, our doctor rushed the tests through, still the two nights of waiting left Terry digesting the impact of a terrible uncertainty. He was living with the very real possibility that the melanoma could be in his lungs and liver already. We promised to support each other in remaining present and not going into what ifs. Yet living with the mind and its nature of thinking is always challenging. Terry was left feeling his life was on the line and any future plans for our music touring were out the window. This was a daunting and dark place to be and over the next few nights Terry experienced disturbing dreams and there was no getting around the fact that his life would be changed forever by this.
Mortality is a fragile thing and never before had everything seemed so uncertain. Definitely time to accept the impermanence of all things. To our relief the tests came back all clear which offered the peace of mind we had hoped for to enjoy our time in India. We headed off, keeping the news of Terry’s eye to ourselves. India always feels like coming home to us and we share a mutual love for this land of fakirs and mystics.
Our India Retreat creates a heart space where we delve into the mysteries of life while enjoying the nurturing of daily Ayurvedic treatments and fantastic healthy food. With morning yoga, meditation, mindfulness, singing and music we relaxed into life by the Arabian Sea sleeping to the sound of the waves rolling on in. We visited Temples and Ashrams with our group and a gentle gratitude and acceptance of surrendering to the path ahead settled into being.
Terry received two weeks of Ayurvedic therapy to bring his body into balance. If he had to have the operation, we wanted him in peak health for the best outcome. India provided us time to digest the impact of the news and come to terms with a possible enucleation or removal of his right eye. There is nothing like your life being challenged to help you see what is really important in life
Back home again, we were told by the specialist and surgeon that the only way to ensure the preserving of life and ensure there was no seeding of the tumor (metastases) was complete eye removal. This seriousness was due to the optic nerve involvement. Our Indian surgeon, was a kind, intelligent and quiet man, who patiently answered all our questions. He was the head of a whole team of doctors who were dealing with this very rare form of Melanoma.
Very little is known about it as yet, but it seems it is not sun related like other Melanomas. Terry agreed to donate part of his eye and Melanoma to further study being carried out right here in Brisbane.
We had three days before the operation and so we made the most of it. Terry wanted to enjoy his last three days of binocular vision. We walked in our favourite forest on the last day and I shot this video.
Terry has beautiful deep blue eyes which set off his handsome face so it was going to be a big change for him to lose both the gift of binocular vision, his face changed forever. We made love for the last time with his two eyes. Terry was coming to terms with being dis-abled due to monocular vision very soon. His emotions were being felt deeply. A natural sense of grief was beginning to emerge.
Our children and Terry’s sister Sally had been calling and expressing their support with real love and concern. It is times like this that family and loved ones draw closer. I had promised to text the family when Terry was successfully through the surgery.
Due to his wide fan base as a public figure and much loved musician and composer we had decided to let people know about the situation. I had sent out an email to our mailing list. The last thing Terry wanted was to be asked what was wrong with his eye every time he met up with people in the future. So a public sharing was our way of sharing the situation honestly and openly. We received many beautiful messages back from people expressing their gratitude for his and our beautiful music and sending Terry and myself much love and healing. We were deeply touched and grateful for the love and warmth people so openly expressed.
I remained positive being there for Terry every step of the way and assured him, “If losing the eye keeps you here with us, then take the eye. Remember you are not your eye”.
My son Jaya and I booked into a hotel right near the hospital so we could be close to Terry. Being very practically minded, Terry had prepared himself over the previous few days finding helpful and supportive forums and blogs by people who had been through the the lose of an eye. Being an avid reader he had downloaded several audio books as reading would prove difficult for some time after the operation. One of the books he downloaded was the autobiography of Sammy Davis Junior He also had my yoga nidra meditation recordings to help him relax and heal. He had begun practicing mindfulness meditation daily also.
One of Terry’s main concerns around the operation was that they would take the wrong eye and he would be rendered blind. Apparently and understandably this is a very common concern, after all you hear about surgeons taking the wrong organ out.
This real fear of losing the wrong eye in the operation was acknowledged by his surgeon as a very common concern in those facing enucleation. To put Terry’s mind at rest as part of the pre-op the surgeon made a mark above his right eye and asked Terry to check it in the mirror so he could relax. As he lent forward a gold OM sign on a chain fell out of the Surgeon’s shirt. We love these little signposts. Terry felt very reassured that all would be well.
I took my son to town to visit museums and walk in the park to distract myself while Terry was operated upon. At one point I experienced real nausea and felt myself tuning in. We returned to the hospital several hours later to wait for him to be wheeled back to the ward. Where his right eye had been was covered with a pressure bandage. Terry was still drowsy. He had no pain as the local anaesthetic had rendered the area numb, and he would be on heavy pain meds for the next week at least. He smiled at us happy to see us with his one eye looking.
Little did we know the biggest challenges were still to come. I will continue this blog in part 2
Please leave your comments or questions below and I will answer as best I can.
with Love Soraya