“2016 was one of the most stressful and saddest years of my life,” writes Gillian Ferguson from the Edinburgh Morningside Macular Support Group. “My husband Ian and I were married in 2013 and moved into our flat in April 2016, looking forward to a long and happy life together.
“Tragically by July Ian had been diagnosed with advanced liver cancer, with a life expectancy measured in months. Then in October, during my annual routine eye examination, I was diagnosed with dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD) in both eyes. My condition was written off in one short sentence: I was told that there was no treatment or cure, just that the degeneration could be fast or slow. Ian couldn’t cope with the news. He accused me of trying to upstage him and told me not to mention it again.
“I felt totally alone and was devastated to realise how much my impaired vision would affect me as an artist, dressmaker, writer and avid reader. I would have given up usage of any body part before my precious eyes.
“Around that time I spotted a leaflet in the library with details of a local AMD support group. I didn’t know what to expect at the first meeting but I braved my initial stomach butterflies and in I went.
“Since then I have been inspired by the other members who have a more advanced condition and have gained strength from their example and fortitude. I have never heard any of them complaining about their lot. We chat over coffee and Nancie, our organiser, keeps us well-informed of events and information about AMD.
“I cannot change my diagnosis but I aim to be proactive and keep abreast of developments, information and devices that will enhance my quality of life. I am still in the incipient stages of AMD but I have already improved the lighting and bought magnifiers with lights. I have painted the woodwork and walls lighter, and if I can ever afford it I would like to replace the black kitchen work surfaces with white. Putting large stickers on my computer keyboard is a big help, and I have a daylight bulb above my easel.
“Sadly, my husband died in January 2017. We have to accept what life throws at us and either get on with our lives or give up and decline. At 71, I still have pictures to paint, books to read and a history of the Grassmarket area of Edinburgh to write, so I am getting on with it. If the degeneration is fast I won’t have wasted time and precious sight. If it is slow then I will achieve much, much more. Either way I am going to have a ball!”