Pregnancy is a turmoil in itself, but this pregnant mother had it worse. A mother-of-four who was diagnosed with rare eye cancer and had to lose her eye just to make sure her baby was safe. She has now given birth to healthy twins. Her story is an inspiration.
Jessica Boesmiller, now 38, was 34.5 weeks pregnant with fraternal twins — a boy and a girl — when she had her right eye removed. She'd been diagnosed with ocular melanoma, a rare eye cancer that had the potential to spread and cross her placenta to infect the babies in vitro. The Cornelius, North Carolina, mother, who also has one 7- and one 9-year-old son, shares her story to inspire others to get their own eyes checked.
The YMCA director, who delivered a baby girl and boy days before Christmas, said she and her husband, a North Carolina firefighter, were relieved when tests confirmed the babies' placentas had not been infected.
Though cancer had not affected the infants, the mother-of-four, her husband, and their two older sons are waiting for the results of a CT scan and MRI to determine if cancer has spread to other parts of her body.
After a year of trying for a third child with her husband of 10 years, Mark who is 41, she conceived via intrauterine insemination (IUI).
How it all started: "In week 10, though, I bled for 16 weeks like the longest period ever
She was ecstatic - the love of her life by her side she was ready to welcome her twins. But life had other plans.
"Beginning in week 10, though, I bled for 16 weeks like the longest period ever — because there was blood where my placenta attached to the wall of my uterus, and it needed to drain. Then, around the 20-week mark, I developed hip pain so severe that I needed a walker to get around," she told Cosmopolitan.
"Worried that, on top of everything, the blurred vision I noticed during my third trimester was a sign of preeclampsia, a pregnancy complication often marked by this symptom, I called my high-risk obstetrician several days after I first noticed it."
Preeclampsia is a condition that occurs only during pregnancy. Some symptoms of preeclampsia may include high blood pressure and protein in the urine and blurred vision. It occurs after week 20 of pregnancy.
Her ob-gyn reassured her and she was referred to a retina specialist. "It was then I was diagnosed with ocular melanoma, a rare eye cancer that can spread and become fatal quickly, although doctors couldn't predict the severity of my condition at that point, before testing the tumor. You never really think something bad is going to happen to you."
The condition tends to affect women above 55 and in care cases, younger women as well.
"The moment I left the doctor’s office with my husband, we both started Googling, and I really began to freak out about possible outcomes. The retina specialist referred me to an ophthalmology oncologist at Duke University Hospital, and I went in on November 15 with my parents and husband. I was 33 weeks pregnant," says the mother.
"That day, after a series of tests, a fellow was examining me when I noticed his computer screen out of my left eye. I could just make out a box that said, "Recommendation: enucleation." Because I'd already Googled treatment options, I knew this meant eye removal. I began to process it in my own way — by asking questions about what the procedure would entail."
"Instead of focusing on losing a portion of my body, I thought of being able to live and be with my children — I knew my appearance wouldn't affect my ability to be a mother."
The day of the surgery: "I realized it was the last time I would be able to look at him with both eyes."
"Everyone kept their cool in front of the physician, and I was actually OK until I saw my parents begin to cry quiet tears, subtly breaking out the tissues. I was still sitting in the examination chair, so my husband came over to hold my hand. It was only after the doctor left the room that we all embraced."
Due to the size of my tumor, radiation therapy would have been of no use for her, she explains. "If I kept my eye, I'd likely lose my vision anyway, and it would damage the muscle surrounding my eye, which is important to keep intact for good movement (and a "normal look") when using a prosthetic."
"There was no question eye removal would be the smartest, safest approach to keep the tumor away from my babies since melanoma is one of several cancers that can cross the placenta, which is rare but can be fatal for an infant. We wouldn't know whether cancer had spread elsewhere in my body, and had reached the babies, until after delivery when we could test the placenta."
"My 2.5-hour enucleation procedure was scheduled at Duke University Hospital on November 30. The babies would be 34.5 weeks old; in case there were complications that called for an emergency C-section, they'd be able to survive with just a few nights in the newborn intensive-care unit. There’s a picture of me wearing a red cap in my hospital bed right before my surgery, and I’m smiling.
"I wanted the tumor out of my body and away from my babies, and was happy to get it done. Although I really wasn't scared, I had a flashback to our 2007 wedding as I was wheeled into the operating room and parted ways with my husband. I realized it was the last time I would be able to look at him with both eyes."
Becoming a pirate: "We compared the tumor to weeds in a garden that had to be removed"
"To explain the situation to my sons Connor, 7, and Caleb, 9, we used a metaphor: We compared the tumor to weeds in a garden that had to be removed. We also talked about how cool I'd look wearing a pirate patch while I healed. Then I showed them YouTube videos of ocularists making prosthetic eyes, with before and after photos. They totally rolled with, as only kids can do."
"I was put to sleep and woke up about 1.5 hours after the surgery with no pain since I'd received an anesthetic nerve block. When I opened my remaining eye, I found a nurse monitoring the heartbeats of my babies through my belly. I got to listen and finally was reassured they were completely fine."
"When the block wore off the next day, the pain in my eye and head was excruciating and required strong pills for relief. There was lots of swelling in the area, and at first, I avoided looking in the mirror. When I did, several days later, I recoiled. My first thought was, 'My poor husband — this is what he’s had to look at,'since he’d been helping me apply antibiotic ointment since the surgery.
"Where my eye had been, I saw a blood-red spherical object about the same size as an eyeball. It's a lens wrapped in my own skin and muscle from within my eye socket. When I heal enough to get a prosthetic — hopefully at the end of January — it will attach to the lens and move naturally in tandem with my left eye."
Delivering twins: "Everyone had begun to open their gifts when, suddenly, my water broke. "
"When I got home, my sons weren’t fazed by my missing eye — their biggest concern was my pain. When they first saw me without a patch, they hugged me and kept asking, "Does it hurt?" I told them I was fine, and they were relieved.
"Two weeks after I was released, my lingering headache subsided, but I put myself on bedrest. I’d become increasingly uncomfortable carrying 12 pounds of babies inside me, my hips hurt, and I doubted my left eye's depth perception after missing the glass when pouring from a pitcher a couple times. My husband became my home nurse.
"My C-section was planned for December 22, so my parents came over the night before for an early Christmas celebration. Everyone had begun to open their gifts when, suddenly, my water broke. I was excited because I hadn’t experienced this with either of my previous deliveries — my first son was late so they had to induce him before performing an emergency C-section, and I scheduled a C-section for my second child.
"Later that night, I had a healthy baby boy, Mason Dare, and girl, Piper Marie, via C-section. Delivery left me swollen everywhere, which initially affected the fit of the large contact lens I wear in the right socket to help glide my eyelid shut. (It's a movement I still have to work for.) The contact lens sometimes falls out."
On the road to recovery: "I want to make sure I’m here for a very long time for my children and will do everything I can to make that happen."
"I’m getting used to seeing out of one eye and plan to return to work in February. Because I’m a little self-conscious about the way I look right now, I wear an eye patch or glasses with one lens blocked out. I try not to sleep with either, so the first thing my husband sees when he wakes up every day — and four times throughout the night when I nurse the babies — is my lens, which has turned pink as it's healed.
I want to make sure I’m here for a very long time for my children and will do everything I can to make that happen."
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