We heard this morning that Oliver Sacks, famed neurologist and author of the book Awakenings, has succumbed to ocular melanoma at age 82. Dr. Sacks had a long career as a clinician, educator, and author. Awakenings was made into an academy award nominated movie staring Robin Williams and Robert DeNiro.
Dr. Sacks has been public about his cancer, particularly in recent days after he was diagnosed with metastatic disease. He was treated for ocular melanoma in his right eye, but later developed metastases in his liver.
Melanocytes are well known in the skin but are also found in the uvea, middle layer of the eye. Many people have a "freckle" in their eye that is benign. Sometimes, just as in the skin, those spots become malignant and form melanoma. The genetics of uveal/ocular melanoma are different from melanomas that start on the skin. About half of people diagnosed with uveal melanoma will develop metastases and this almost always happens in the liver.
I truly believe the old reminder from John Donne that "Any man's death diminishes me…" but somehow when a well-known person dies from melanoma the impact of this cancer becomes particularly real and present.
Let's use his passing, and the news coverage that will accompany it, as an impetus to reach out to our friends and loved ones still struggling with melanoma. An extra phone call, email, or hug is always a good thing.