by Lisa Tome
Earlier this year, five days after having life-saving surgery, Cecil County Councilwoman Joyce Bowlsbey was back in her chair serving the citizens after having her eye removed.
Bowlsbey, 72, who has been married to her husband, John, for 50 years, and is the mother of two sons and grandmother of three, says she has fully bounced back following her second bout with eye cancer, known as Uveal Melanoma.
"I did not have a twinge of pain. Not at all," she said.
Bowlsbey discussed her cancer journey and recovery.
In May 2009, during a routine eye exam, Bowlsbey's optometrist at Vision Associates found a brown spot on her eye.
That doctor sent Bowlsbey to an opthamologist who referred her to Wills Eye Center in Philadelphia.
Within a month, Bowlsbey was at Wills for an exam. "People come from all over the world to there," she said. She underwent a battery of tests including having photos of her eye taken and an eye sonogram. Her physician, oncologist Dr Jerry Shields, diagnosed her with eye cancer. "He knew it right away. He said eye cancer," said Bowlsbey.
The dot, which was the size of the head of the pin, was easy to spot in her greenish-blue eye. Within a month, Bowlsbey was scheduled to have the tumor removed from her eye. She also had to follow the other recommendations for those with cancer; liver scan blood work and a chest x-ray.
Bowlsbey followed up after the tumor was removed with the treatments and checkups. She then developed a cataract and lost depth perception in the eye. She had that repaired and her sight was restored.
In October, 2014, she was back for a regular check up at Wills. An eye sonogram was ordered. She knew there was a problem. Bowlsbey was still on the campaign trail a few weeks from the general election.
"Dr. Shields said 'the cancer is back'," said Bowlsbey. She was offered two options - radiation plaque therapy or the removal of her eye.
She opted for the removal.
"I have to be honest. I have not fretted about it," she said.
Nor has John Bowlsbey. The couple is able to laugh in the wake of the serious diagnosis and eye removal.
"Whenever something is missing, like she only has one earring on like right now, this is her excuse," laughed John Bowlsbey.
She delayed the surgery until the end of January, taking time for the election, swearing in, and vacation that had been planned long before the diagnosis.
The outpatient surgery was held January 29. Bowlsbey had assumed Dr. Shields would do the procedure. Another doctor was assigned to operate. "I said 'how good are you?' He said I do five a week. I said okay, then," she said.
Less than six hours after the surgery began, she was back home with only one eye. A few days later she attended a Superbowl party, and was answering the phone by the next day.
"I'm so lucky. It could not have gone better," she said.
Prior to the surgery, a party was held in her honor, she was presented with seven eye patches, all decorated with "bling".
Later this month, she will begin the process to receive a prosthetic eye. Her eye muscles will house a piece of coral. "It will be as close to a normal eye as possible," she said.
Now that she has survived eye cancer, she is continuing to take care of her health, getting the necessary scans and check-ups and is involved in a genetic testing research study. "I've been very open with my experience. I'm more than willing to talk with anyone about it. I've had no pain and I've led a normal life," she said.
"I know that it's serious. I don't think people realize the importance of getting their eyes checked. It's your life, an investment in your future. The human body is amazing. You adapt so well," she said.
Both Bowlsbey and her husband say they are grateful for the support - the calls, letters, well wishes, and phone calls.
"I didn't skip a beat. There has been no difference at all. If I have total control over it and can fix it, I will. It does not affect my day to day," added Bowlsbey.