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Riverside Park - Suite 3 / 392-398 Manns Rd, West Gosford NSW 2250
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Reignited Purpose

Amanda Rungis - Sunday, November 26, 2017

There are conditions we learn about at university, but we never see in practice. I have been an optometrist for 25 years and I have never for example diagnosed a brain tumour. I have had patients come in concerned that they may have a brain tumour. But the symptoms have quite often been explained by something simpler e.g. needing reading glasses.

A stressful year

I have had a lot of stress this year. My father was diagnosed with bladder cancer just before Christmas – successfully treated with radiotherapy. Then lung cancer around Easter – again successfully treated, this time with immunotherapy. Now he has chronic kidney disease. Also, as any small business owner will tell you, there are often various challenges at any one time. Small business isn't for the feint hearted.

I had developed neck pain and associated headaches. Visits to the chiropractor, physiotherapist and massage therapist weren't providing any relief. Everything was attributed to stress. Sure – I had plenty of that!

Then fortunately, I damaged my car driving out of Woolworths Gosford. I misjudged and scraped the left-hand side of my car along the concrete wall. The concrete wall won! Confused and concerned I drove straight to Sure Eye Care and noticed that despite my best efforts I couldn't park between the lines properly. At this stage I was thinking - maybe a retinal detachment?

Sarah performed a computerised visual field examination on me and I did it perfectly. Then came the scary realisation that if it isn't my eyes, it must be my brain. Given by blood pressure had at times this year been greater than 170/110 I figured I may have had a stroke.

On Friday the 13th October I had a MRI and was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Here I again was fortunate. My GP rang the neurosurgeon he most respected in Sydney. He happened to be on the Central Coast and if I could get to Element in Erina in the next hour he'd see me that day.

So only 2 hours after my MRI my husband I and sat in shock and listened to a neurosurgeon explain that I had a brain tumour the size of a plum. That I was going into hospital on Tuesday and having brain surgery on Wednesday.

The pure terror of diagnosis.

What do people say when things are rough? “Well at least you don’t have a brain tumour” and “It’s not brain surgery”. Except now you do and yes, it is.

The days between diagnosis and surgery were a mixture of shock, fear and denial. By Sunday, when we went to the Gosford City Farmers Market, I could barely walk. The tumour had started to affect the entire left side of my body. I hadn't been even able to dress myself without help that morning. I was trying to use a walking stick but as my brain wouldn’t register it was there I was just kicking it out of the way. It was hilarious. My husband ended up grabbing it off me and getting me to lean on him.

On Wednesday 18th October I was wheeled into brain surgery. The theatre nurse greeted me with “I’m not going to ask you how you are because that’s a stupid question.” Then she had to check my name, DOB and the surgery I was having. Given everything had happened so quickly it was the first time I had to say the words “brain tumour”. Even now 5 weeks later thinking of that moment makes me shiver. I kissed my husband goodbye and they wheeled me in. I set an intention that I would see him again.

Waking from surgery

Surgery is obviously easier for then one being operated on than for their nearest and dearest. I have an insight into this based on a letter my husband wrote me while he waited the 2.5 hours I was in surgery. With his permission I share the despair he felt - “The reality is that I’m sitting here typing this and you’re maybe 50 metres away with your life, and our future in the hands of a bunch of people who I hadn’t even heard of 5 days ago.”

The next thing I was conscious of was waking up and seeing the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen. Eyes are obviously my thing being an optometrist. When I first met Gordon at the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service black tie ball in 2010, I immediately noticed his eyes. And the fact that he wasn’t wearing a black tie (but that’s another story).

Gordon’s eyes smile when he's happy, and his eyes were beaming. I was alive and breathing. We chatted for a while and suddenly he said, “Welcome back my love”. My cognitive decline and my behaviour changes had obviously been too slow and subtle for him to notice at the time. But now, with most of the tumour gone, I was back to my old chatty self.

Alive and breathing, AND walking!

The first 12 hours after brain surgery aren't fun. They wake you every hour to check your name, DOB, where you are, what day it is, what date it is, your pupil reactions and your reflexes. They're effectively checking that you don’t have a brain bleed that would mean rushing back to theatre.

My overnight nurse Andrew and I developed a good rapport. I was very grateful for his presence as they'd sent Gordon home. I could remember the date as it happened to be Sure Eye Care’s 12th birthday on the day of surgery. Something Sarah, also known as Miss Positivity, took to be a very positive sign.

But I couldn’t remember what day it was. “Are you serious? Days merged into a hazy confusion the moment I was diagnosed.” So, Andrew taught me it was Wednesday. Great! I was so excited - when he next entered the room and asked, “What day is it?”, I confidently answered “Wednesday”. To which he replied with a cheeky smile “Nope. It’s past midnight. It’s Thursday.”. To which I answered, “Now you’re just being a bastard and having fun with the brain impaired person.”

Having survived those first 12 dangerous post-surgery hours, I was excited to see the dawn start creeping into ICU. Once they removed all the tubes and monitors, the physiotherapist arrived with a walker to see whether I could walk. After just a couple of steps she let me attempt walking unaided. The sense of achievement I felt doing 2 laps around ICU is hard to explain. I have been celebrating ever since by walking along Gosford Waterfront every morning.

The day after surgery

Next Challenges

Pathology confirmed that the tumour was malignant. So, on Monday 13th November (exactly a month since diagnosis) I started radiotherapy and a trial drug therapy for 6 weeks. My last radiotherapy treatment will be on Friday 22nd December. I'll then have a month off and have another MRI to see what future treatments may be necessary.

The radio-oncologist seems optimistic as according to him the surgeon has done such a good job that it's made his life easy. So far so good. I have completed the first of 2 weeks treatment. No side effects yet, but apparently, I'm likely to start feeling fatigued soon.

The first day of radiotherapy

What about Sure Eye Care?

When I first opened Sure Optical at Lisarow Plaza in 2005 I envisioned it evolving into a larger preventative eye care practice with several optometrists. That vision became a reality when Sarah joined us in 2014 and we then moved to Riverside Park in 2015. Sure Optical was very much my baby but Sure Eye Care (SEC) is much greater than just me. I'm sure Team SEC (as we call ourselves) will happily give the same comprehensive and caring service that we're known for in my absence.

In the first instance my husband Gordon took over running daily operations at SEC. I want to take this opportunity to officially thank Gordon for immediately jumping in and looking after SEC when I was diagnosed. No one else could have done that. He already had a very thorough sense of SEC so could immediately step in as owner.

Gordon also cares sincerely for all SEC staff. He made it a priority to make sure there wasn’t any unnecessary stress on them, and that they had certainty that everything would be OK. But that's all meant that he hasn’t been able to focus on ReviveR as much as he could have. When ReviveR first opened I spent a lot of time and energy on it, and Sure Optical suffered. I don't want Gordon and ReviveR to end up in the same position, especially as besides being the busiest time of year, the ATO is opening soon.

Given we have now been able to appoint an acting General Manager David Norris of Active Assist, Gordon can safely return to focus on ReviveR without anyone having any fears of what'll happen at SEC. Given ReviveR is Gordon’s highest priority, I honestly have tears of gratitude streaming down my face that he was prepared to make SEC his number 1 priority for the last 5 weeks.

Who's David?

David is my business coach, mentor and close friend. We have been working together for a decade so despite not being in the industry he understands SEC very well. I have always been in awe of David’s wisdom. There's not a single meeting in the last 10 years that I haven’t learnt something. David is a close friend of both Gordon and me. He has seen us at our best and at our worst. He did the reading at our wedding. He was there for us the day after I was released from hospital and having a rare “woe is me” day.

Principal Optometrist - Dr Sarah Tait (B. Optom. Hons, B. Sc.)

Sarah has stepped into the role of principal optometrist. It's been my honour and privilege to mentor her the last 3 years. She's an exceptional optometrist. I have no reservation recommending her to all my patients. After all she's my optometrist. Plus, by helping me diagnose by own brain tumour, she literally saved my life, for which I'm obviously very grateful.

Most importantly, I know she shares my vision of SEC being the greatest preventative eye care practice in the region.

The rest of Team SEC

Sarah will be supported by Patient Care Manager Wendy Penn (who has been with me for 7 years) and Optometric Assistants Chesney Walker and Jake Vernon-Elliot. So, I don't anticipate any change to your patient experience during my enforced sabbatical.

Wendy is my longest serving employee. I met her at a social gathering. She was struggling to find paid employment as she'd been raising her children for the last decade. In a traditional recruitment sense, she'd no experience or references. So, I did what all management coaches (including David) and books tell you NOT TO DO and hired someone simply on intuition and a desire to help. I’m so glad I did. I couldn’t imagine Sure Eye Care or my life without her. She has been a wonderful employee for the last 7 years and a great friend throughout this unexpected challenge.

Chesney and Jake joined us this year. They're both young, inspiring, hard-working and devoted employees. I'm unspeakably grateful for all of Team SEC. They've functioned well under very challenging happenings.

Why a reignited purpose?

I had spent all this year highly stressed. I no longer found it easy to get out of bed let alone get to work. There were some days that I literally thought I was having a breakdown. I had feelings of hopelessness and uncertainty.

I couldn’t understand. I had wanted to be an optometrist since the age of 15 when I completed work experience for an independent Optometrist. That interest became a deeply personal mission when Macular Degeneration (Australia’s leading cause of preventable blindness) claimed my Grandfather’s (Opa) vision in 2003. That was the defining moment that drove me to open my own practice and invest in the best technology available to ensure that all my patients had the best possibility of seeing well into the future.

Being diagnosed with a brain tumour and surviving brain surgery does make one re-examine one’s highest values and purpose. For me it's reignited my purpose to offer exceptional preventative eye care. For the moment I'll have to do that remotely via Team SEC. I'm currently fully committed to being well again and returning to SEC in 2018. Honestly I miss my patients, my team and most of all helping others.

"Is there anything I can do to help?"

This is the most common question I receive. If you're reading this you're likely either a patient of Sure Eye Care, a patron of ReviveR or perhaps both. Obviously both businesses have had some unexpected challenges with my diagnosis. Gordon and I had really appreciate your support now.

If your or your family members are overdue for an eye examination, please make an appointment to see Sarah. I'm a good example of why you should never ignore symptoms. Yet, with eye disease there aren’t always symptoms in the early stages. That's why an annual eye examination is recommended for anyone over 5 years of age.

If your planning Christmas drinks with friends or a Christmas party, please consider making a booking at ReviveR. I love the egg nog - but sadly none for me this year. I’ll have to see if Gordon can invent me a ketogenic diet (low carb) cocktail. Given the brain tumour was the size of a plum, we could call it the “Plum Squisher”.

If you currently don’t need either service, but you value what we do, please share this blog. Or tell family, friends and colleagues about Sure Eye Care and ReviveR. Gordon and I would sincerely appreciate it.

My belief

Since my brain tumour journey began 6 weeks ago people have been commenting on the strength and positivity I've displayed, and that I'm an inspiration. I take no credit. I attribute my attitude and my resolve to the wisdom I've gained from Dr John Demartini over the last decade. Dr Demartini is a Human Behaviour Specialist, Leadership & Performance Expert, Author and Business Consultant. I've read many of his books, listened to his CDs, watched his DVDs and webinars, and attended his courses both in Sydney and in Houston, USA.

I was very grateful that Dr John Demartini was in Australia presenting Prophecy II (his 5-day mind body healing course) exactly between my surgery and radiotherapy starting. He only presents this course in Australia about every 4 years so the synchronicity of this was not lost on me.

“You won’t experience challenges that are beyond you to manage” Dr John Demartini.

I have every faith the universe wouldn't grant Gordon and I something we couldn't manage. I have every faith I'll be well again. I'm approaching this “Brain Plum” with all the commitment and determination I have used to build Sure Eye Care. I believe the Plum doesn’t stand a chance of staying!

With Dr John Demartini at Prophecy II in Sydney, November 2017


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