9 Investigates: Trying to crack Huntersville’s eye cancer mystery

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. — Could six women hold the key to solving an ongoing eye cancer mystery in our area?

Normally, ocular melanoma affects five in 1 million people, but there are 22 diagnosed cases in the Huntersville area alone.

Vicki Kerecman, Christy Jay and Jessica Boesmiller, who all live in the Huntersville area, are strangers who crossed paths because of an unusual bond -- the extremely rare eye cancer, ocular melanoma.

“Had you ever heard about ocular melanoma?” Latos asked.

“I hadn’t. It was pretty scary,” Kerecman said.




Kerecman's regular eye exam nine years ago turned out to be anything but routine.

“She diagnosed me with ocular melanoma and that was on a Thursday,” Kerecman said. “On Monday, I had an appointment in Philadelphia for treatment.

Doctors treated Kerecman with plaque radiation then injections, which killed the cancer but also her ability to see from her left eye.

Annual checkups revealed a freckle on Jay’s left eye.

Doctors watched it closely and eight years ago, Jay received the same diagnosis.

“You walk in as one person and out as another,” Jay said. “You come out not knowing what is going on. You’ve heard terms you’re not familiar with. You’ve heard, ‘Rare. The cancer doesn’t respond to chemo.’”

Doctors were able to save Kerecman's and Jay's eyes, but the fear remains.

“Vicki and I, we still have the tumor,” Jay said. “It’s almost like a ticking time bomb. You just never know.”

Boesmiller’s journey has been far more serious.

She experienced blurry vision while carrying twins and learned she also had ocular melanoma.

Doctors removed Boesmiller’s right eye weeks before her children, Piper and Mason, were born and last spring, she learned the cancer has spread.

“I have currently around 20 or so tumors throughout my liver,” Boesmiller said. “So, I'm not a surgical candidate.”

She's been traveling to Duke University Hospital for treatment and scans every few months in an effort to keep the cancer from spreading.

All three women are determined to help find answers.

Scientists have tested the soil and even eye cancer tumor tissue searching for a link, but results have been inconclusive.

Scientists now wonder if crucial clues could lie in the patients, themselves.

“It’s not known to affect young females, but here you are,” Latos said to the group.

“We don’t know why,” Kerecman said. “We hope they find something with our genetics that puts us in the same category, something in our makeup.

Six women are undergoing blood tests in the search for a cause in the mystery, which has plagued the Huntersville community and the families of Meredith Stapleton and Kenan Koll. The two young women lost their battles with ocular melanoma.

“We get up and we live because Kenan can't and Meredith can't, but we're still here,” Boesmiller said.

Despite losing some of their vision, Kerecman, Jay and Boesmiller said they see their purpose more clearly than ever. They're grateful for every day and the chance to look forward to the future.

“What are your favorite things to see now?” Latos asked.

“My grandson's face,” Jay said.

“I love the beach and family and friends,” Kerecman said.

“Mine is family,” Boesmiller said. “Family is everything.”

The town of Huntersville is supposed to get $100,000 to continue eye cancer research as part of the state budget, but the problem is the money is in limbo because the budget still hasn't passed.

Doctors found Boesmiller's cancer because she had blurry vision, but not everyone has symptoms.

Kerecman and Jay were diagnosed when they had their regular eye exams, but that must include the part of the exam when your eyes are dilated.

They both stress do not skip that part of an eye check because they believe it saved their lives.

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