For Marlene, it was seeing cloudy spots on roadside billboards. TV looked blurry, and she had no way to sharpen the focus. In the kitchen, she mistook her finger for a carrot on the cutting board. Marlene noticed these frightening changes to her sight at age 56, after many years of smoking. She went from one eye specialist to another, searching for answers. She was eventually diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration (AMD)—an eye disease that gets worse over time and has no cure.
AMD destroys the central vision you need to read, drive, and recognize the faces of your loved ones—leaving you legally blind.
Marlene had an advanced type of AMD, called “wet AMD,” which is unusual in someone so young. Smoking doubles the risk for AMD. But like many people, Marlene had no idea that cigarettes could contribute to a disease that could make her go blind.
“If I had a crystal ball many years ago, I would never, ever have put that first cigarette in my mouth,” she said.
The best chance for slowing her vision loss was a drug that must be injected through a needle into each eye. Marlene was afraid of needles, but even more afraid of going blind, so she started monthly injections. To date, she’s had more than 100 shots in each eye. “And this will probably go on for the rest of my life,” said Marlene.
“I want to see the sun. I want to see the water,” she said. “I want to see life the way it is, not with black clouds blocking my vision!”
Blindness never entered Marlene’s mind when she started smoking early in high school. She snuck cigarettes from her mother’s pack, and a neighbor taught her how to inhale. Marlene’s girlfriends thought smoking was cool, too, and asked Marlene to give them lessons. Within a year, Marlene craved a cigarette first thing every morning. She was addicted.
Marlene tried to quit several times as she and her husband raised three children, but each time she relapsed. “Smoking was my crutch, my gold star, my friend I wanted to share in the good and the bad,” said Marlene. “Cigarettes were my good friend who couldn’t say anything back to me.”
Soon after being diagnosed with eye disease, Marlene quit smoking for good. She wanted to do everything in her power to help save her vision. “Our first grandchild came into this world, and I wanted to be able to see him!”
Today, Marlene’s vision is stable. She can read recipes with a magnifying glass, but she doesn’t read much else, preferring to listen to audio books or watch a big-screen TV. Her vision loss makes stairs look like one big step, so she needs a guiding hand to avoid tumbling down even a few steps.
Marlene hopes sharing her story will inspire others to quit smoking as soon as possible. “I got knocked down hard, and I’m sorry I didn’t listen,” said Marlene. “I’m just pleading with people, if you have a second chance, a first chance, do it, because smoking wreaks havoc on our lives!”