The gift of sight is more than just vision.

Story & Photographs provided by Cory Blum

“My name is Cory Blum. I am 39 years old and 2 1/2 years eye cancer free. Sadly, the more I learn about eye cancer, the story of the finding of my eye cancer seems way too similar: Symptoms missed and being misdiagnosed by another doctor, not knowing that eye cancer even existed, my easy-going personality, my amazing ability to accept things the way they are. Putting things off all came to a head on October 15, 2012.

After 6 years of dealing with symptoms that were originally attributed to cataracts, a spiraling chains of events occurred including my new ophthalmologist (who was first to find my cancer) and his retinal specialist (who first showed me pictures of it) telling me, “You have to go to Wills Eye in Philadelphia.” After a day-long series of tests at Wills I end up sitting in an exam chair with my parents and girlfriend by my side. In front of me was Dr. Shields and her whole crew of doctors and assistants and I heard the words, “You have cancer.” Like I said my story sounds similar, but what happened next I feel is not…

Sitting there, seeing the devastation in my loved ones eyes and tears rolling down their faces, I simply paused for half a second and without even shedding a tear said to Dr. Shields, “Okay, where do we go from here?” She then proceeded to lay down the events to come. I had come “armed” for the battle and knew the basic skills of what I needed to know on how to beat cancer. I held on to the one major thing everyone needs to know when battling cancer.

curtsI was 19 when I had the first “meeting” with cancer. I had just finished high school. My parents insisted I get a new car for the trade school; I somehow convinced my parents that I needed to get a Jeep Wrangler. It had to be the gray one I found. Yep, had to be that one. One problem, it was stick shift and I didn’t know how to drive stick. My friend Curt said, “Don’t worry, I’ll teach you.” He drove it home for me late one Saturday night. On Sunday he came over and spent most of the day trying to teach me how to drive it. I got so frustrated that at one point I got out of the Jeep and walked away from it. I was so pissed. Curt reassured me that I could do it, to just remember what he had showed me and I would do fine. Curt and I ended that Sunday with him telling me, “I have a checkup tomorrow and when I get back we’ll try again.” (I did learn how to drive stick and drive stick well from what Curt had taught me.) That Sunday was the last day I lived NOT knowing what cancer was. Curt didn’t return home from his checkup that Monday. Weeks before, through a spiraling series of events, Curt found out that he had an ultra rare form of lymphoma. His checkup at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital on that Monday turned into the start of his treatments. Curt spent 6 months in the hospital. His battle started from day one and at a couple of points had taken turns for the worst. He almost passed on, but was saved by a bone marrow treatment from his sister. When Curt returned home he was different, mentally stronger but physically weak. He barely had enough strength to stand, let alone walk. It took a while and a lot of hard work but, what seemed like a long time went rather quickly and before long he was back to living a full life. Curt now lives in Colorado, is engaged, they are raising a cute little boy together, and he is the happiest that I have ever seen him. Curt and I have spent a lot of time together since the curing of his cancer (as friends do), but it wasn’t until it was my turn to have cancer that I realized that Curt had passed on the basic skills needed to beat cancer. Today I pass that information on to you:

  • Battling cancer is 10% physical and 90% mental. If you say, “I can’t” then you won’t.
  • You have to accept that this is happening to you, and that things have changed.
  • You have to realize that even though cancer is a part of you, you control it – it DOES NOT control you.
  • You have to realize that you can’t change the past or what you could or should have done. Don’t stress yourself out over it. It’s not worth it. You can only move forward.
  • Wear your scars with pride, even the ones that are not visible. Learn to say, “This is happening, or this has happened to me.”
  • Understand that cancer attacks you in the worst way possible, it feeds off of fear. Not the fear of death, but the fear of not being to continue on living (there is a difference). STAY FOCUSED, stick to the facts and weed out the mental b.s. that you will put yourself through.
  • MOST IMPORTANT (TRULY, MOST IMPORTANT, the one MAJOR thing you have to hold onto), you have to visualize and realize that there is life, a good life after cancer.

Curt has been proving this to me and everyone else who knows him for the last 20 years. My life after cancer is just as hectic as it was before cancer. I can say that my outlook on life has changed. Since being cancer free I got to spend time with my grandmother before her timely passing, I got to go to my other grandmother’s 90th birthday party, hug and kiss loved ones, spend Christmases with my family, meet my newborn nephew, have a water balloon fight with my nieces, share life stories with friends, crack endless jokes with coworkers, and I even got to read this letter to my friend Curt at his 40th birthday / 20 year cancer-free party. These are just a few of the things that I hold close to my heart. Not only because I am cancer-free but because I get to experience more to come and truly know that every day is a gift. To anyone battling cancer PLEASE, PLEASE read and re-read this story with an open heart and realize that you are not alone in this battle. It is so much easier to shut down and give up than it is to battle, but if you do give up you will have already lost. Lean on family, friends, co-workers, other cancer survivors, and anyone else you need to for support. Curt and myself are just two of many in a group of survivors, a group that needs many more, and all of us in the group need you to battle. To Dr. Shields, Thank you. Thank you for everything…. for your endless hours of work, saving lives, and teaching and passing your knowledge onto others. Thank you. You’re the best doctor I have ever had and it means the world to me. Thank you to the doctors, staff, and everyone at Wills Eye Hospital for giving me a gift, the gift of knowing that sight is much more than just vision.”

You can read more of Cory’s friend Curt’s story in the book Curt’s mother wrote here.