• Olivia Anelise

Living With Glaucoma + Cataracts

Hello! Olivia here. I hope you all are having a great summer! This month marks three years since I made a huge change in my life and decided to get cataract removal surgery in my right and only good eye. I've wanted to share my story for a while now and to be honest, I've had this post saved in my archives for two years but haven't had the courage to share with you until today.

I was born with a cataract in each of my eyes. What is a cataract? A cataract is a clouding of the normally clear lens of your eye. For people who have cataracts, seeing through cloudy lenses is a bit like looking through a frosty or fogged-up window. Clouded vision caused by cataracts can make it more difficult to read, drive a car (especially at night) or see the expression on a friend's face. Which causes progressive nearsightedness, changes in the way you see color, problems driving at night, glare and double vision."

It's very rare for someone at a young age to have such a thing but unfortunately in my case, It's genetic on my dads side. I have aunts, uncles and even my little sister has had cataracts. Some have even become fully blind because of it.

When I was only 3 months, I got the left cataract removed but the right still remained. Growing up was extremely difficult. I couldn't really see in my left eye and was forced to wear contacts since as early as I can remember. Every single day was a struggle for me. I was clumsy, couldn't read the chalkboard and couldn't watch tv in the daylight due to the glare bouncing off. I'd have to use my hands as a shield from the windows to be able to see the television. It was something I dealt with and didn't talk about with others because I just wanted to be a normal kid. It effected my confidence and made me extremely insecure. ​

When I was in fourth grade, I woke up with my left eye blood shot red and that's really all I can remember. We rushed to Children's Memorial Hospital in Lincoln Park where they diagnosed me with Glaucoma and I've had it ever since. "Glaucoma is a condition that causes damage to your eye's optic nerve and gets worse over time. It's often linked to a buildup of pressure inside your eyeGlaucoma tends to be inherited and may not show up until later in life."

The reason I developed glaucoma because they removed my cataract at such a young age where my eye was still growing which caused complications in the process. I soon became legally blind and my eye became lazy. I was made fun of for them ever since. Being called lazy eye, cock eyed and who knows what else. Unfortunately, there is no cure yet but I've been taking 3 eyedrops twice a day since then to maintain the pressure. ​

It started to become more difficult where color looked faint and dull, driving at night became worse. I was more clumsy than normal and tv was getting harder to watch. I was doing hair at the time which became really hard and I started to realize it's something I couldn't do forever.

I always knew in the back of my mind that I'd have to have my other cataract removed which scared the shit out of me. One day, that thought became reality when my doctor at Northwestern mentioned surgery in the fall of 2015. I completely lost it and started thinking the worst thoughts. He knew I was upset so he said to come back in a month and we'll revisit the thought. The only thing I could think about in that four weeks was surgery. Should I risk it? What if I develop Glaucoma in my only good eye? What if it goes wrong?

When I came back I was ready to have an answer. He totally overlooked the whole conversation and was like "K, I'll see you in 4 months." Automatically, I was pissed. The only thing I could think about in that four weeks was surgery and preparing for an answer. I quickly realized that that specific doctor was my Glaucoma specialist. When I was transferred to Northwestern from Children's Memorial when I was only 15, my Glaucoma was worse than the Cataract so it seemed right that I saw a Glaucoma specialist... I guess?

​I decided to try a different doctor to see what they'd recommend and she pretty much said "it's up to you when you want to have surgery." I'm sorry but I'm only 22 (at the time) I don't want to have to make this decision for myself. I want a DOCTOR to tell me what he thinks would be best for me.

I didn't go to the doctor for a while because I didn't want to waste my time or money. Months later, I started speaking with my dad and told him the situation. He recommended that when my sister goes to her doctor at Children's for her yearly checkup, we'd ask him to take a look at it and get his recommendation. He looked and automatically said "Yeah, I can barely see through this cataract. I'd get it it removed." That's ALL I wanted. He recommended me to the best doctor and I scheduled the surgery after speaking with him. ​

After countless months of anxiety and fear, I made the appointment and on July 20th, 2016, I had cataract surgery. It's an extremely quick procedure, only about 30 minutes to an hour. When I went into the surgical room, the doctors said I was their youngest patient. I had the surgery, rested for a bit and went home.  ​ I had my post op the next morning where they took off my patch. In the waiting area, The nurse took it off and when I opened my eyes I started to cry of pure relief and joy. I've NEVER seen so clear, sharp and bright in my entire life. I looked at Chiko and all I could think is how thankful I am for him because without him countlessly saying "you're going to be able to see great, it's gonna be fine, stop stressing" I probably wouldn't of went through with it.

When I got home, everything looked so different, the flowers, trees, my cats fur. I noticed how much hair was all over my tub, GROSS! I've never noticed how many freckles I had. I can see street signs from far away. Even though I was able to see sharper, It's now more difficult to see close up and words are blurry. 

The first day back to work was a struggle because I was used to doing things one way and had to completely adjust my life pretty much. I had several panic attacks but I pushed through it and eventually I got used to my new eye. 

I now completely rely on glasses and can't see close or far without them. It frustrates me often because I have to wear "trifocal" or "progressive" lenses where you have to move your head in order to see certain distances. Sometimes I feel like a grandma reading but I know that what I'm dealing with now is MUCH better than what I was dealing with before.

Because of my conditions, I was bullied and told that I wasn't going to be able to do things like drive or do hair. I was insecure about my appearance and hid behind bangs up until I was a senior in high school. It only gave me more motivation to do all the things I was told I wouldn't be able to and prove all the people that doubted me wrong. I always tried to look past that and learn to work with that I had. It really just make me feel bad for the people who felt the need to vocalize my condition that I obviously had no control over.. Everyone has their own issues and insecurities and it's not our job to make it more known. 

I learned that sometimes you have to set fear aside and take a chance. If I never took this chance, I would still be struggling and wouldn't be able to see all the things I can now. My eyes are my motivation to see the world and take care of myself and my body because at any given moment, we can loose it. 

I'm thankful for my mom who was a single mom, working crazy hairdresser hours and sacrificed so much for me my whole life to make sure I had the best care and doctors. You da real MVP <3 And I'm thankful for my doctors and nurses at Children's Memorial Hospital and Northwestern Hospital. xo,  Liv 

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