Published: 00:01, 11 February 2017
The school run is a completely different experience for a Deal mum who now wears blingy eye patches following the removal of her eye because of cancer.
But it’s not because of negative comments – which she rarely receives.
Rather the expectation of youngsters who think they’re so cool, they insist she wears a new one every day!
Toni Crews, 27, of Campbell Road, was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive cancer in her tear gland, adenocarcinoma of the lacrimal gland, last June.
“It’s so rare that when I rang Macmillan for advice, they had never heard of it,” she said.
“They had to go through their files to find information to send to me.”
The mum of Charlie, five, and Faith, four, noticed her eye was continually puffy in May 2016.
Her family said she looked like she had always been crying and her vision was also blurry.
She had been experiencing severe headaches since a trip to Disneyland Paris in February 2013 but isn’t sure if the two are connected.
She said: “I went to the opticians first because I thought they’d be able to look at the back of my eye.
“At the time I thought I was overreacting.”
The optician at Baileys in Dover noticed strange lines on the back of Toni’s eye, prompting her to call another optician in.
“She was very thorough and referred me to the Rotary Ward at William Harvey Hospital.”
Toni was advised to visit her GP and after the second trip there was she given an MRI scan.
She said: “I was told that if the scan had picked up something serious, I would be told within two weeks.
“It was a Wednesday, the last day before the two weeks was up, when I got a call from the ward saying I needed to get over there that day.”
Her partner of 10 years, Darren Prescott, a taxi driver, took her.
“All they had said at this point was that it was a lesion,” Toni said.
“They showed me the MRI and it showed there was a mass behind my eye and the eye was pushed forward slightly.”
She was referred to Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, travelling there the next day.
“I was under the impression that I was going there to have the lump removed and then I could get home and it would all be over and done with.”
Alarm bells started ringing when Toni arrived at the hospital and the staff already new her name and her condition.
As a carer at The Knoll and Ami Court, in Deal, she also picked up on some of the terminology they were using.
The mass was removed with surgery and sent off for tests.
About 10 days later on June 25, Toni returned to Moorfields to have her stitches removed. This was when they told her that it was cancer.
A full body CT scan would determine whether she had cancer anywhere else.
“They warned me that the one in my eye was likely to be a secondary cancer. It’s so rare for it to be the primary tumour so the expectation was for it to be somewhere else,” Toni said.
But it came back clear.
“The two weeks waiting for the results was awful but it was fantastic news.”
Toni still had to consider her options. One option was to have her tear gland removed and a course of radiotherapy, but her oncologist advised her, for her best chance of survival, to have a full orbital exenteration – removal of the eyeball and the surrounding tissue such as her eyelid and muscles.
Her maternal instinct kicked in and within two days she had decided to go with the latter.
“Your life is more important than your looks,” she said.
“I wanted it all just to be done as quickly as possible.”
The operation was conducted three weeks later on September 20, back at William Harvey Hospital in Ashford.
After months of wearing dressings and while waiting for a prothesis to be made, Toni decided she wanted something to boost her confidence.
She said: “I wanted to get back to doing the school run and things like that. I wanted to get back to normal.”
She bought a black patch from a pharmacy and had the sudden urge to customise it.
She started wearing it on the school run but after chats with her family and a follow-up appointment at Moorfields where a doctor supported her idea, she decided to start a business.
That evening, she launched Bling-k of an eye, setting up Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Etsy sites.
She’s since had people stopping her in Deal High Street to ask where they’re from and has sent orders to Essex, Birmingham and even America.
“My dream is to make a successful business from it, helping people to regain some confidence after surgery, injury or cancer" - cancer survivor Toni Crews
She said: “I get lovely compliments. I’ve had a few comments from adults like, ‘Oh what have you been up to?’
“But the kids at school are great. They’re fun.
“They love the patches and I get into trouble if I wear the same one twice.”
Toni uses medical grade patches, decorating them with rhinestones, swarovski crystals, fabric and fabric paints.
She makes around one a day, spending up to eight hours on each. Her designs to date include flowers, Father Christmas, Superman, Pac-Man, a paw, cancer ribbons and Darth Vader – a request from her son.
The former Castle Community College pupil says it’s like therapy.
“It’s a good distraction for me, and something to do when the children go to bed.
“My dream is to make a successful business from it, helping people to regain some confidence after surgery, injury or cancer.
“I’d love to be able to give a percentage of my profits to different cancer charities.
“I also want to raise more awareness of rare cancers.”
Vist ‘Bling-k of an eye’ on Facebook and Instagram. Prices start from £10.