Emily Pickett: Retinoblastoma Does Not Define Me

  University of South Florida Communications student Emily Pickett lives happily with only one eye. Her passion is to make others aware of the consequences improper eye examinations can bring. At the young age of 5, Pickett was diagnosed with a severe case of retinoblastoma and underwent surgery to remove her left eye.

 Retinoblastoma is a rare and easily curable form of cancer that directly affects the retina and can spread throughout the eye and into the brain. Most diagnoses occur before the age of 3, but Pickett’s cancer was not discovered until the late age of 5. If her cancer was found earlier she may have been able to keep the eye and have had a surgery-free childhood. She received surgery within a few days to remove her whole eye and has been cancer-free ever since.

  “In six days they did the surgery,” Pickett said. “I got my eye removed at 5 years old.

In response to her loss, Pickett constantly tells people her story and is open to discussing her journey with anyone who is interested. She speaks to parents and children everywhere to spread awareness for retinoblastoma because if she were diagnosed earlier she may have been able to keep her eye.

In particular, she spreads the phrase “Know ‘The Glow’”, which is a campaign that distributes awareness for multiple eye diseases including retinoblastoma. Photographs using the flash feature often show red coloration in eyes, but if one eye has a white glow around it that could be a sign of eye disease. She shows a photo of herself as a child to give an example to others.

  “Do you see how one eye is obviously very red and one eye has a white glow to it?” Pickett said. “That is the number one sign of retinoblastoma.”

  Unfortunately, Pickett and her family were unaware of this sign. Today their mission is to make others aware. Pickett’s mother, Melissa Pickett, is by her side every step of the way and helps spread awareness as well. Melissa deals with challenges every day knowing her daughter has a disability, but Pickett never misses a beat.

   “I don’t think it held her back,” Melissa said. “She had some restrictions but in some ways it made her excel and want to prove that she could do anything.”

Pickett has constant support from her family and especially from her sorority. She is a member of the Delta Gamma sorority and has been for a year and a half. Pickett receives support every day from her sorority sisters and even remembers a time when her fellow members all wore eye patches to make her feel comfortable. Her eye was badly infected and she had to remove her implant. Her doctor required she wear an eye patch for two weeks. Pickett’s sorority sisters also wore patches to support her and make her comfortable. Pickett’s close friend, Paige Bravo, remembers seeing photos of this event when she was first initiated into the sorority.  

“They all took pictures with their left eye covered,” Bravo said. “It made me think the sisterhood was stronger.”

Pickett is the face of self-confidence and accepts her disability. She embraces her beauty inside and out and never lets her condition have an effect on her self-esteem.

“I have to be confident,” Pickett said. “There is nothing I can do. I don’t have a choice but to be confident. I have to accept it and embrace it.”

 Pickett plans to give a TED talk in March 2017 to further spread awareness and get her story out there so people will be better prepared for the signs and symptoms of retinoblastoma.

  “The title of my TED Talk is ‘Cancer Doesn’t Define Who I Am, Perseverance Does’,” Pickett said. “I think that’s absolutely true. Cancer is a part of me but I am so much more than that. I have done so much in light of my disability and that’s what defines me.”