A mother-of-two who lost her eye to a deadly cancer has revealed she’s now able to blow out candles through her empty socket.
Emma Cousins, 34, from Sheffield, has been living with one eye after undergoing an operation in June 2018 to remove an extremely rare tumour called a mesenchymal chondrosarcoma.
Medics told her she was ‘the only person in England’ with the cancer, which silently grew behind her left eye for 15 years.
It was only spotted when she complained to her doctor that her eye was beginning to bulge.
And on top of the surgery, Ms Cousins has been left with a small hole in her empty socket because her radiotherapy treatment to kill cancer cells caused parts of her skin to die.
But while waiting for an operation to patch up the hole, which is connected to her lungs, she has created TikTok videos of her using the hole to perform her newly-found party trick.
Ms Cousins taught herself to blow out candles through the empty socket, and has amassed support from thousands of fans.
Ms Cousins had surgery in June 2018 to remove a tumour that also meant her eye had to be extracted. As soon as she saw herself with one eye, Ms Cousins realised she looked ‘different to anybody else’. She said: ‘The first thing I can remember thinking was ‘wow it doesn’t look as bad as I thought”
The cancer was spotted after Ms Cousins (pictured per-operation with her son) went to A&E in 2018 after noticing that one of her eyes was bulging, leaving her with the sensation that it was being stretched
Since having the operation, Ms Cousins has received global attention on TikTok after sharing videos of using the hole in her empty eye socket, which is connected to her lungs, to blow out candles
One video received 15million views, with thousands of fans cheering her on. One person said: ‘I would just like to say this is not scary but inspiring, unique and beautiful. Because this is who you are’
One video received 15million views, with thousands of fans cheering her on.
One person said: ‘I would just like to say this is not scary but inspiring, unique and beautiful. Because this is who you are.’
Ms Cousins went to A&E in 2018 after noticing one of her eyes was bulging, leaving her with the sensation that it was being stretched.
Doctors assumed she had suffered a small bleed in her eye and referred her to see an optician, who asked to see selfies she had taken on her phone.
She had six years of pictures on her phone but the eye specialist wanted to see even further back.
Ms Cousins said: ‘It was at that point I thought “oh no something is wrong”. I managed to find pictures of me at 15.
‘The optician said he didn’t know for sure but that it looked like something had been growing behind my eye since I was 17.’
What is mesenchymal chondrosarcoma?
Mesenchymal chondrosarcoma is a cancer that either develops in the bones or soft tissue, such as muscle or fat.
The cancer can either be fast-growing, or remain inactive for years.
It is an extremely rare tumour and most commonly affects children and young adults.
Mesenchymal chondrosarcoma can cause swelling or pain and is usually diagnosed when it causes these symptoms near to where the tumour has developed.
Sometimes the cancer can be spotted early if it is seen on an x-ray taken for other reasons.
It can occur almost anywhere in the body, but usually spreads to the lungs, soft tissues and other major organs.
Treatment for mesenchymal chondrosarcoma involves surgery to remove the tumour, or chemotherapy to shrink the tumour if it is initially too large to be removed.
Patients often receive radiotherapy after surgery to treat any tumour cells that are still present.
The cancer accounts for less than one per cent of all sarcomas, which are rare types of cancer.
Some 5,300 people in the UK are diagnosed with sarcomas each year, meaning less than 50 are mesenchymal chondrosarcoma.
More than half of patients diagnosed with the cancer will die within five years of diagnosis, while around a quarter will live 10 years.
Looking at the images side-by-side, Ms Cousins said she noticed subtle differences as her eye appeared to grow and bulge over time.
An MRI scan revealed she had a large tumor growing behind her eye and a biopsy was taken to see if it could be saved.
Medics told her she had the rare form of sarcoma cancer, which starts in tissues like bone or muscle – and said she would lose her eye.
Ms Cousins said: ‘I thought “no, it can’t be, I’m too young” and the doctor was acting very nervous.
‘The doctor said “the eye will have to come out” and told me I’m the only person in England with it, and that chemotherapy wouldn’t work.
‘He told me not to Google it but obviously that was the first thing I did when I was alone.
‘I wish I had listened as all I could find were pages saying it spreads to the lungs and you die.
‘After reading that it made me panic and the reality kicked in – I was going to lose my eye and I had cancer.’
Surgeons performed the operation in June 2018, warning Ms Cousins they would remove as much of the tumour as possible but she would be left disfigured.
Ms Cousins said: ‘I had to tell my children because, with my eye going, I couldn’t hide it from them. I told them I needed to have my eye removed then I would be better.
‘I was nervous but knowing I had cancer and how bad it could be made me feel better about it. Losing an eye for a chance of saving my life was a risk I was willing to take.
‘I think one of the worst things was 10 minutes before the eye removal, one of the nurses drew an arrow on my forehead to highlight which eye it was – and for the rest of my time left with two eyes I was panicking they would take the wrong eye out by mistake.
‘My main concern was what would happen with the kids – my daughter was so young at the time, so she wouldn’t remember anything about me.’
Ms Cousins’ struggles didn’t end after making it through the operation, however.
A six-week course of radiation therapy to kill remaining cancer cells landed her in ICU.
She fought off debilitating symptoms linked to fulminant multiple sclerosis, which left her ‘completely paralysed’.
After examining selfies Ms Cousins has taken over the course of more than a decade, an optician concluded something had been growing behind her eye since I was 17. Looking at the images side-by-side, the mother-of-two said she noticed subtle differences as her eye appeared to grow and bulge over time. Picture, left taken in May 2017, and right, taken in February 2018, shows her left eye slightly bulging
An MRI scan revealed Ms Cousins had a large tumor growing behind her eye and a biopsy was taken to see if it could be saved. Medics told her she had the rare form of sarcoma cancer – a type of cancer that starts in tissues like bone or muscle – and told her she would lose her eye
She said: ‘I couldn’t even talk – it was like being completely locked in my own body, unable to communicate anything.
‘Doctors told my family I would die, but to their surprise I regained the ability to talk, my arms started to work, and I have slowly recovered to the point I can now walk myself – although not as well as I used to.’
Medics were left equally baffled by the adverse reaction and much is still unclear about why Ms Cousins suffered so much post-surgery.
As soon as she saw herself with one eye, Ms Cousins realised she looked ‘different to anybody else’.
She said: ‘The first thing I can remember thinking was “wow it doesn’t look as bad as I thought”.
‘It was still a few months before it all settled and the bruising had gone down, but it looked so much nicer than I had presumed it would look.
‘I actually liked it because everything has been done now with hair and makeup, whereas everyone notices how different I look – and I try to live up to that with my eye patches.
‘After all, they are going to stare at me anyway, so why not give them something to stare at?’
Ms Cousins was referred to have a prosthetic eye made, but found it to look ‘fake’ and be too much ‘faff’, so opted instead to wear glasses and eye patches.
Over time, a small hole developed in her empty socket – which doctors believe was caused by the radiation.
She is waiting for a procedure that would take a chunk of skin from her leg to cover the hole in her socket. But it is not clear when that will happen.
She said: ‘Because the radiation has killed veins in my socket they supply the skin with blood and because blood cannot get to the area the skin dies and that’s what the hole is.
‘I’ve waited over a year for the operation but now the hole is getting bigger, simple things like having a shower or being in heavy rain can drown me.
‘As the hole is directly connected to my lungs – meaning anything going in my eye can enter my lungs. I have to stay away from a swimming pool and baths as I could drown.’
Despite her suffering, she has received global attention on TikTok, after taking to the social media platform to share videos of her empty socket and show off her unique party tricks – which include blowing out candles with the hole in her socket.
‘This is so powerful,’ another fan added.
Someone else commented: ‘No offence but it kinda looks like your eye is breathing but you’re beautiful.’