One sunny autumn day seven years ago, Butch Ewing suddenly noticed something like an eyelash or a speck of dust in his eye. He tried to flush it out with water but was unsuccessful. He soon realized that no one else could see what he saw: something that resembled a Chinese dragon. It had been around 10 years since he’d had an eye exam, so he and his wife Amy decided he should see a doctor.
“As I waited in the exam room, I noticed an ad about floaters and thought, ‘that must be what I have,’” says Ewing. The ad explained that floaters are very common and easily treatable. Butch felt confident this would be resolved soon, but he was about to find out otherwise.
“Well, there is something in your eye, but we’re not exactly sure what it is. We suggest you see a specialist,” said the ophthalmologist. Butch knew then it must be serious because they immediately set up the appointment, sending him directly to the specialist.
Ewing says he jumped on his moped (eyes still dilated) and drove straight to the specialist. It was there that they discovered he had a mole in the back of his eye that had turned into melanoma. Then he heard the words no one expects to hear, “Hopefully it hasn’t spread to your liver or lungs. Your tumor is so big that radiation isn’t an option, so we’ll have to remove the eye.”
Butch suddenly found himself standing next to his moped in the parking lot, completely shocked. “I couldn’t think. I couldn’t even pray. It was like getting the breath knocked out of you,” he says.
The thirty-minute ride home from the specialist seemed like milliseconds. He told Amy the news, only he watered it down a little. They decided to go ahead and tell their kids who were seven and nine at the time, explaining that the Chinese dragon in dad’s eye was actually a mole on the back of his eye. It had grown to the point that it started to bleed, and he was seeing the shadow of the blood that was inside of his eye. They told them that he might have to have his eye removed because the mole had turned into cancer. The specific diagnosis was Ocular Melanoma. The kids seemed to take it surprisingly well, but Butch often wonders how much it has affected them.
“I had never heard of eye cancer, let alone knew of anyone who had it. After some research, we found very scary, confusing and conflicting information. Houston has always boasted of the great cancer facilities at the Medical Center, so I felt reassured I’d be able to find a good doctor for a second opinion,” Ewing explained.
“This doctor was very optimistic, saying I was a great candidate for Radioactive Plaque Therapy. Upon telling him my experience with the specialist, he wisely said that no one is prepared to hear you have cancer, while at the same time, no one is prepared to tell you that you have cancer.”
Though the treatment for his primary tumor is done, the lifetime risk of metastasis is 50-65%. There is no cure if it were to spread, and the life-expectancy at that point would be six to 18 months. Butch now has a barrage of follow up scans and blood work every six months. Because of the rarity of this type of cancer, it is an ongoing struggle to get the scans approved by insurance.
While radiation was an overall success, damage to his optic nerve would cause Butch to slowly lose vision in his eye. As a result, he would get constant headaches from trying to focus, so he started wearing a patch to ease the strain. He says he was reluctant to wear it at first, but before long he began to appreciate the attention and decided to use it as a platform to share his story.
“After a few months of being an official cancer victim, I got a tattoo — my cancer survivor tattoo; a Chinese dragon holding an eye ball. Because like Donna Summer, I will survive! It is a reminder of the vicious beast that cancer is, seeking only to steal, kill, and destroy,” Butch says. “It also gives me an opportunity to share the hope that I have in Christ. Psalm 119:50 says, ‘This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.’”
Butch has been able to share this experience with many people who feel as though they have no hope. People often ask him how it feels to know that he could die at any moment. He usually just smiles and asks them how they deal with that fact.
“The hope that I have and the promise found in the word of God is not for this temporary life that we experience today — it is for eternal life. Life without pain, disease, and grief. This unending life is filled with joy and adoration for the giver of life.”