Marlene K.’s Story
Marlene started smoking in high school, with a lesson from a neighbor on how to inhale. Smoking seemed cool. Marlene continued to smoke as she married and raised children. Then at age 56, Marlene started to lose her vision. She had trouble reading; accidentally cut herself in the kitchen; and would fall, even when walking down only a few steps. She had developed an advanced eye disease called age-related macular degeneration (AMD). AMD can destroy the central vision you need to read, drive, or see people’s faces.
Marlene’s doctor told her to quit smoking if she wanted to keep even a small portion of her eyesight. When a new drug came out—a breakthrough that might slow her vision loss—Marlene was excited. “Okay. I take it by mouth?” Marlene asked. “No, we inject it in your eyes,” said the doctor.
To date, Marlene has had dozens of injections in each eye—and she’ll need even more shots each month to avoid further vision loss. Marlene hopes that sharing her story will help others quit smoking as soon as possible.
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What’s it like to lose your eyesight? For Marlene, it started with small, cloudy spots in her vision. TV shows looked blurry, and she had no way to sharpen the focus. In the kitchen, she mistook her finger for a carrot on the cutting board. Marlene noticed these frightening changes to her sight at age 56, after many years of smoking. She went from one eye specialist to another, searching for answers. She was eventually diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration (AMD)—an eye disease that gets worse over time and has no cure. AMD can destroy the central vision you need to read, drive, and recognize the faces of your loved ones.
Marlene developed a type of AMD, called “wet AMD,” which is unusual in someone so young. Smoking doubles the risk for AMD. But like many people, Marlene had no idea that cigarettes could contribute to a disease that could cause her to lose her eyesight.
“If I had a crystal ball many years ago, I would never, ever have put that first cigarette in my mouth,” she said.
The best chance for slowing her vision loss was a drug that must be injected through a needle into each eye. Marlene was afraid of needles, but even more afraid of going blind, so she started monthly injections. To date, she’s had dozens of shots in each eye. “And this may go on for the rest of my life,” said Marlene.
“I want to see the sun. I want to see the water,” she said. “I want to see life the way it is, not with black clouds blocking my vision!”
Vision loss never entered Marlene’s mind when she started smoking early in high school. She snuck cigarettes from her mother’s pack, and a neighbor taught her how to inhale. Within a year, Marlene craved a cigarette first thing every morning. She was addicted.
Marlene tried to quit several times as she and her husband raised three children, but each time she relapsed. “Smoking was my crutch, my gold star, my friend I wanted to share in the good and the bad,” said Marlene. “Cigarettes were my good friend who couldn’t say anything back to me.”
Soon after being diagnosed with eye disease, Marlene quit smoking for good. She wanted to do everything in her power to help save her vision. “When I found out my daughter was expecting our first grandchild and that smoking could cause macular degeneration, there was no reason to continue smoking. I wanted my health!”
Today, Marlene’s vision is stable. She can read recipes with a magnifying glass, but she doesn’t read much else, preferring to listen to audio books or watch a big-screen TV.
Marlene hopes sharing her story will inspire others to quit smoking as soon as possible. “My advice to anyone who smokes is to quit. Do whatever it takes to quit smoking.”
And while her eye treatments are not something Marlene looks forward to every month, she says, “I’m happy and grateful that I’m able to get treatments—that there are treatments. Years ago, there was no help, and people with macular degeneration just lost their central vision. If you notice a change in your vision, don’t be frightened to say anything. Go and get help before it’s too late!”