‘Routine eye test saved my life’

Sheila Allinson
Sheila Allinson

A grandmother has revealed how a routine eye test led to her being diagnosed with a cancerous tumour in her eye.

Sheila Allinson, 82, of Fulwood, Preston, had her eye saved by revolutionary proton beam treatment.

Sheila said: “When they first told me I had a malignant tumour behind my right eye, I honestly thought I was for the chop.

“It is a miracle I am still here 10 years on and I can see really well and do everything I want.”

The mum-of-two and grandmother-of six was given two stark options after the test flagged a problem: to have her eye removed and replaced with a false eye or to have four metal pieces put in to have proton beam treatment at Clatterbridge Cancer Centre as soon as possible.

Sheila says: “I was distraught and asked my son Peter what I should do. He said: ‘Mum, it is your eye and it is your decision based on whatever you are happier doing.’

“I decided not to have my eye removed and go ahead with the proton beam treatment at the Clatterbridge Cancer Centre.

“Clatterbridge was the only place that offered this treatment with other places being in Paris and America.”

The proton beam at Clatterbridge Cancer Centre was designed to treat eye cancers as it has a low energy beam.

“Protons can focus more precisely on the tumour and there is less damage to surrounding tissue.

Sheila went to the cancer centre for treatment each day and had to have a mask made to undergo the treatment.

She says: “It was a daunting experience but the treatment itself did not hurt and took just seconds – a minute at most.

“A proton beam was used to attack the tumour. It is all to do with nuclear physics and is very clever.

“Only Clatterbridge does this treatment for eyes at the moment and people go there from all over the world to have it done.

“The proton beam treatment saved my eye and I still have vision in that eye, although it is impaired.

“I saw the professor every three months for check-ups after that at Clatterbridge Cancer Centre and after five years, I was discharged.

“I cried when I was discharged as I felt sad that I wouldn’t be seeing them any more.

“They were absolute angels to me at Clatterbridge. I was treated like royalty. They were all incredible.

“I was transferred to a consultant at Preston who I see every 12 months and he is lovely.”

Sheila considers it a miracle that she is still here 10 years on – and her vision is good enough for her to still be driving at 82 – as well as being able to watch her beloved football team, Preston North End, who she is now supporting for her 71st season.

Sheila, who worked at Horrockses Mill office as an accounting machine operator before becoming a cook supervisor at St Lawrence’s School in Barton for 20 years, says: “Football is my main passion and I live, eat and sleep football.

“My dad George Dunnagan took me on my first Preston North End match when I was 11 and I have been hooked ever since.

“We were a better team then than we are now!

“But I have supported Preston ever since and have been a season ticket holder for at least 45 years and go to matches in all weathers and rarely miss a home match.

“Sir Tom Finney was my hero and I just love football. My nickname is: ‘Football Sheila’!”

When Sheila turned 70, she was actually a mascot for PNE as a surprise arranged for her by her friend Rick.

Sheila explains: “When Rick was a little lad of about 10, he lived opposite and wanted to go to the football but his parents didn’t like football.

“So I started taking him. Now Rick is grown up and has two boys of his own and he started taking me to the football with them.

“He arranged for me to be a mascot as a surprise and it was a wonderful experience being able to lead the players out and meet them all.

“Rick has now moved to Leicester but we are still in touch.

“Having my eye saved has allowed me to keep watching football and I can see everything clearly.

“If I had lost my eye, I would have still watched Preston North End but I wouldn’t have been able to see them as well.”

As well as being a huge football fan, Sheila is keen on Daniel O’Donnell and enjoys going to see him. Her other hobbies include gardening and taking other pensioners shopping to Asda.

She is also still able to drive and has been driving since passing her test at the age of 40.

Sheila says: “All I can say to anyone is to keep as active as you can and stay positive.

“I would also advise people to have regular eye tests as it is amazing what they can find.

“My eye – and probably my life – was saved by the tumour being picked up during the eye test.

“Initially, it was a tremendous shock but it had a happy ending and I am very lucky to still be here.

“The treatment I received was amazing and the care I had was superb.”