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Woman Warns Others About Sunglasses Without UV Protection After Developing Ocular Cancer

PA Real Life/Collect

A sun worshipper who prided herself on owning at least 40 pairs of “blingy" fake designer shades with no UV protection believes they cost her an eye – after she developed ocular cancer because of sun damage.

Priding herself on her vast collection of cheap sunglasses, former home care manager Chris Willcocks, 59, wore them all year round, but particularly loved the way they set her outfits off on annual trips to Turkey and Spain with her builder husband, Graham, 61.

Then, one August morning in 2018, Chris, of Basildon, Essex, suddenly went blind in her right eye and her life changed forever.

Chris on holiday (PA Real Life/Collect)

Speaking out to encourage people to have regular eye tests, after admitting that she had been “putting them off for years" and to warn against buying cheap sunglasses, she said: “I'd woken up bright and early and went into work to make the most of it.

“I was walking briskly along a corridor when, suddenly, it was like all the lights had gone out.

“'I've gone blind, I've gone blind!' I cried, as my colleagues sat me down. I was so panicked I could hardly think, and the next thing I knew I was in an ambulance."

Chris and her sister, Sherriel (PA Real Life/Collect)

Whisked to Basildon University Hospital, after being given an MRI scan, doctors told Chris the blood vessels in her eye had burst because of ocular melanoma – a type of cancer in the eye, often caused by over exposure to sunlight.

Transferred to an eye specialist at nearby Southend University Hospital, things went from bad to worse.

“The next thing I knew I was being told my right eye needed to be removed as soon as possible," she said.

When they told me it was sun damage that caused the cancer I was utterly devastated.
Chris Willcocks

“When they told me it was sun damage that caused the cancer I was utterly devastated," she continued.

“I always went for the blingiest sunglasses – I just loved the glamour, unfortunately, and they had clearly done nothing to protect my eyes."

Further devastating news followed when Chris was told her right eye needed to be removed forthwith.

Chris on holiday (PA Real Life/Collect)

She said: “The doctor looked at the back of my eye and almost immediately told me that it needed to be removed instantly.

“I was told the tumour was too large for any other possible treatment."

Despite everything, Chris tried to stay strong to protect her husband and her sons Lee, 36, a joiner, and Luke 30, a landscaper.

Chris with her husband, Graham (PA Real Life/Collect)

“It was just so upsetting," she confessed. “I tried to stay strong for the family, though. That's what mums do.

“My tears were kept behind closed doors but they were there."

Chris was booked in for the hour-long operation at The Royal Liverpool University Hospital, in Merseyside, on September 2, 2018, which has a specialist eye clinic, to remove her right eye – surgery that would change her life forever.

Moments before the operation, it really hit me that I was going to lose my eye for good.
Chris Willcocks

“Moments before the operation, it really hit me that I was going to lose my eye for good," she said.

And, despite being released after just an overnight stay, with surgery declared a resounding success, Chris locked herself away for several weeks after returning home.

“Part of it was self-consciousness, but part of me just felt silly," she explained.

Chris on holiday (PA Real Life/Collect)

“Silly that I'd worn those cheap sunglasses for all those years, over all those summers," she continued.

“I must have had at least 40 pairs and I'd barter the shopkeepers down from 10 euros to about six or seven for a pair."

Wearing an eye patch for two weeks before being fitted with a custom lens to match her left eye, Chris was impressed with the result.

“It's absolutely brilliant," she said. “You wouldn't be able to tell it's fake – they've done a marvellous job."

But, just when things were looking up, Chris was dealt another devastating blow in April this year, when CT and PET scans at north London's Mount Vernon Hospital, carried out to check on her progress, revealed that the cancer had spread to her liver.

“The day I was told the cancer had spread wasn't a very good day at all… it was hard," she continued.

I've had to take time off work because I'm so fatigued. But I'm hopeful for the future - I have to be.
Chris Willcocks

And in May 2019 she began a year- long course of immunotherapy. This involves visiting Southend Hospital once a fortnight for a five hour session, during which special drugs are administered through an IV drip.

“The side effects can be tough. I'm tired all the time. I've had to take time off work because I'm so fatigued. But I'm hopeful for the future – I have to be," she added.

Doctors told Chris they are hopeful that at the end of her treatment her cancer will go into remission.

Chris and Sherriel (PA Real Life/Collect)

But, in the meantime, she is keen to raise awareness about the dangers of wearing cheap sunglasses and the need to have regular eye tests.

“It frightens me how many people out there are wearing these sunglasses with next to no sun protection," she said, admitting that she had not had an eye test for over four years. “I just want to shout at them and tell them my story.

“I spent years using reading glasses off the shelf which is why I didn't go to the opticians for so long."

Chris now (PA Real Life/Collect)

“I just wish I'd have known they weren't an alternative to going and seeing a professional and getting my eyes tested properly. I wish the packaging on those things made it clear you need to go to the opticians regularly," she continued.

“Really, I'd like to ban cheap sunglasses without UV protection altogether but, for now, I've got to focus on raising awareness.

“It's like smoking used to be – people need to know the facts."

Chris with family (PA Real Life/Collect)

She continued: “And, at least, if you're going to buy cheap glasses then make sure you go for an eye test. They cost next to nothing. I was always being told by friends and family to go and I completely ignored them.

“Doctors said if it wasn't for my blood vessels bursting I could have sat there for months and months as the cancer grew and grew.

“In a way, going blind saved my life. I dread to think what might have happened if I hadn't."