I didn't think too much of it when my right eye started getting a little puffy. When my vision went blurry, I thought a trip to the optician was a good idea. I didn't expect to end up losing my eye to cancer.
I was 26 when I was diagnosed with an adenocarcinoma of the lacrimal gland, which is a very rare and aggressive cancer in my tear gland. It was resistant to chemotherapy so the only way for me to survive was to have my whole right eye removed. Three months later, I went under the knife.
I was petrified for myself and what my life would be like with only one eye. I had no time to mentally prepare for what this would mean, how I would cope and, most importantly, how it would impact on my children, who were only three and four years old at the time.
I did my best to explain to them that my poorly eye had to be taken out to stop me from being very ill, and I hoped that they understood. It broke my heart. I didn't want them to have to suffer any comments from their young friends who may not understand what had happened.
After the surgery, my children were amazing. My son was a little frightened at first and my daughter was simply fascinated. But, even though I was so glad the cancer had gone, I was shocked by how deep the hole was and I worried about how others would react. I needed to find a way to pick my own confidence up enough so I could do the school run without fear of embarrassing myself or my kids. I also didn't want to miss out on such an important part of parenting and I couldn't stay hiding behind closed doors forever.
I had spent the first few weeks after the surgery wearing a huge white patch over my eye while the healing process began, which hid the massive hole where my eye used to be. I also bought a black eye patch from the local pharmacy to disguise the surgical gauze, which helped me to feel a little less self-conscious. But I still knew that people were looking at me and making comments - more than a few times people joked that I was dressed like a pirate. It was a friend who suggested I should embellish the eye patch a little - if people were going to stare at me then I may as well give them something to really look at.
I stuck a few diamante gems on my trusty black eye patch and I wore it to an appointment at the Moorfields Eye Hospital. The surgeon praised my efforts saying I should sell them. From that moment, I haven't really looked back.
I set up a Facebook group and started a profile on Etsy under the name of Bling-k of an eye and I was soon getting a couple of orders a month. I aim to make my eye patches sparkly and glamorous but also practical and comfortable. I also make personalised ones to suit specific people or for certain occasions, such as Easter or Christmas. Creating eye patches and sending them to people throughout the UK and even to the USA and Canada is empowering, therapeutic and personally really rewarding. It's great to be able to help other people of all ages who are in a similar situation to myself or have suffered eye injuries.
I had a prosthetic eye fitted earlier this year, and I am amazed at how natural it looks. There are currently no signs of the cancer coming back but I have to wait five years to get the full all-clear. But, I can honestly say I am happier and more confident now than I ever have been before. I am so pleased to be Toni with two eyes again and that my cancer experience has made a positive contribution to the lives of other people who are handed such a life-changing diagnosis. I may have lost an eye but now I can see more clearly than ever what's important in life.
Macmillan Cancer Support provided practical and emotional help, advice and support for Toni following her diagnosis. If you or someone you know if affected by cancer, call 0808 808 0000 or visit macmillan.org.uk