Julie S.: How seeing the bigger picture saved my life

July 1, 2021
Dismissed as a side effect of cataract surgery by her ophthalmologist, Julie S.’s experience with double vision turned out to be symptomatic of something much more serious. At the insistence of her optometrist, Andrea Thau, O.D., Julie had an MRI that detected a brain tumor. And most likely saved her life.
Julie S from NYC

“I'm a big believer in doing checkups. You know—preventative stuff rather than waiting for a problem to happen. I’m religious about my annual physical and mammogram and everything on my checklist. That’s kind of my philosophy.” -Julie S.

For Julie S., it’s this philosophy of proactive, preventative care that’s helped see her through multiple bouts with leiomyosarcoma, a rare form of cancer. Since her initial diagnosis in 2013, Julie has had two tumors removed and undergone both radiation and chemotherapy. And because of its aggressive nature, she’s keenly aware of her ongoing risk factors, though even she never considered that her vision issues were symptomatic of something more.

Julie explains, “Because of the steroids that I was taking on chemo I developed a cataract. So, I had cataract surgery, and it went well. But months later, I needed new glasses because my vision had changed. I was seeing double at a distance, even with my glasses on. So, I went to my ophthalmologist, and he thought it was just muscles that had gotten out of alignment during the cataract surgery and that I should see a specialist. But he didn’t think to have me take it another step.”

“I was referred to Dr. Andrea Thau,” Julie continues. “She did the refraction and all that and said, ‘Yeah, you're definitely seeing double, but before I correct it, I need to rule out the possibility that you have an underlying medical condition.’”

Dr. Thau explains, “I listened very carefully to her story, and alarm bells were going off in my head because sudden onset eye turns in adults are not normal. Her body was strongly signaling that something was wrong. I could correct the symptoms afterwards, but we first needed to find the cause.”

“Thank God Dr. Thau insisted I go for an MRI because otherwise it would have been undetected, and who knows what would have happened […] I’m so glad that I’m able to pay it forward.” -Julie SGiven Julie’s medical history, Dr. Thau insisted she go in for an MRI before she fixed her glasses—which resulted in the detection of a brain tumor. “It was what they call a secondary cancer because it was the same type of cancer that I had eight years ago. But thanks to Dr. Thau, they caught it in time. They removed the tumor in my brain, and here I am.”

Now in remission, Julie’s story doesn’t end here. As she puts it, “Once you have cancer or it affects you, it’s amazing how many other people can relate to it. I think it's important for people to go to a doctor who’s driven to treat the whole picture.” And to help spread this message, Julie is sharing her story with the hope that it will encourage others to get the kind of comprehensive eye care they deserve from an optometrist who looks beyond the symptoms in an effort to solve the underlying problem—an optometrist like Dr. Thau.

From Dr. Thau’s perspective, building strong relationships with patients, getting to know their history, and tracking even the smallest changes over time are what set optometrists apart from many other health professionals who may look at issues or symptoms in isolation. “As doctors of optometry, we look at ways to protect, preserve, enhance, and rehabilitate patients’ vision. And by treating each patient as a whole person, we’re able to pick up both systemic and neurological problems, which can help them see better, make their life better, or—in this case—even save their life.”

“Thank God Dr. Thau insisted I go for an MRI because otherwise it would have been undetected, and who knows what would have happened,” says Julie, continuing “I’m a very private person, but I’m so glad that I’m able to pay it forward.”

Andrea P. Thau, O.D.

Andrea P. Thau, O.D.

Practicing at Dr. Thau and Associates on Park Avenue in New York City, Dr. Thau is a champion of children's vision, who has been called upon to advocate on their behalf at the state and national level. A nationally recognized lecturer in the area of infants' and children's vision, she is a founding member of the AOA's InfantSEE® committee as well as a founding member and former vice president of the New York Children's Vision Coalition. Dr. Thau is a past president of the American Optometric Association and currently serves as the founding chair of the AOA’s Leadership Development Committee, in addition to being a member of the AOA’s Political Action Committee and acting as Policy Chair and Councilor of the Vision Care Section of the American Public Health Association. Find an AOA doctor of optometry near you.

Find a Doctor of Optometry

Find a Doctor of Optometry

Patient Stories

Emory Mitchell: Lifelong eyecare starts at birth

Diagnosed with congenital cataracts (a clouding of the eye's natural lens that is present at birth) when he was just an infant, 12-year-old Emory Mitchell understands firsthand the importance of addressing eye and vision problems early on.

Alison Teitelbaum: Paying it forward, one eye exam at a time

Don’t wait until you notice a problem to see an optometrist because it might already be too late. That’s the message 41-year-old Alison Teitelbaum hopes readers will take away from her story of having ocular melanoma, a type of eye cancer, detected during a comprehensive eye exam.

Janice Cook: From piano teacher to optometry advocate

After more than 50 years as a piano teacher, Janice Cook’s eyes were opened to the connection between some of her most challenging students’ musical abilities and their underlying—and often undiagnosed—vision issues.