The new ‘Vision Express at Tesco’ store in York has officially opened its doors, with a celebration led by local teen, Tabitha Whitaker – who was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive eye cancer when she was three years old.
As an ambassador for the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust (CHECT) – a Vision Express charity partner – Tabitha, now aged 14, was on hand to mark Retinoblastoma (Rb) Awareness Week 2018 with an official ribbon cutting at the new Tadcaster Road premises.
When she was three years old, Tabitha, who lives in Askham Bryan, was diagnosed with the rare eye cancer, Rb, after her mum, Claire, noticed a white flash in her eye. Within a week, Tabitha had undergone life-saving surgery to remove her affected eye.
“I think she was diagnosed at quite a high age compared to other children,” explained Claire, Tabitha’s mum. “There was no family history and no previous problems, but one day I noticed this white flash and I had a bad feeling straight away - my first thought was that it was a tumour and she was going to go blind.”
Concerned, Claire and her husband took Tabitha to their local optician. “I couldn’t even go in with her,” she continued. “I had Tabitha’s younger brother with me at the time, who was only three months old and I just didn’t want to hear anything. I knew it was bad.”
Following her eye test, Tabitha was referred to the emergency eye department at the local hospital and then Birmingham Children’s Hospital. A consultant there confirmed it was retinoblastoma and found she was completely blind in the right eye.
Following surgery to remove the eye, Tabitha underwent four sessions of chemotherapy as the cancer had spread to her optic nerve. The treatment was successful, and she now has annual check-ups at the oncology department at Leeds hospital.
Claire added: “At the time it probably affected us more than it did her. She had to undergo painful treatment that she didn’t like but she was too young to understand why. When she had her artificial eye fitted, it was a nightmare. It was so stressful, and she had to be pinned down – she just didn’t want anyone touching it. She was so strong-willed about it, which probably helped her cope in the end.
“As Rb is a relatively unknown cancer, a lot of parents don’t know what signs to look out for, so regular eye examinations are important. If we’d taken Tabitha for an eye test between the ages of two and three, maybe she could have been diagnosed earlier and her eye could have been saved.”
Vision Express has enjoyed an award-winning partnership with CHECT since 2010, using initiatives to raise awareness of Rb and drive donations for the charity, so they can help more families affected. It was also the first optician in the UK to roll out a protocol to ensure a quick and effective referral if Rb is suspected.
Sharon Hall, ‘Vision Express at Tesco’ York store manager said: “We were honoured to welcome Tabitha to our store, to share her personal experience of eye cancer. It’s a great morale boost for the team to raise awareness of Rb, and of the amazing work CHECT does for those families affected.
“Many people don’t realise that eye tests at school are no longer mandatory and this is a perfect opportunity for Vision Express to let people know about the importance of regular eye exams for children.”
The York store is one of more than 200 outlets launching across the UK in 2018, following Vision Express’ acquisition of Tesco Opticians at the end of last year.
The new stores showcase a purple-infused rebrand being introduced across the entire Vision Express network, which features a refreshed logo, striking purple and green colour décor, bright sofas and wooden flooring, delivering a modern, inviting and vibrant environment to encourage customers to feel at ease.
Vision Express CEO Jonathan Lawson added: ““We are incredibly grateful to the children and families from CHECT, for giving up their time to help us to raise awareness of Rb and eye health. The courage and determination that each of them shows never ceases to amaze me.
“This is a hugely exciting time for the Vision Express family, and we’re delighted to welcome new team members to the company and provide a seamless eye health service to former Tesco optical customers. Crucially, we’re pleased to now be able to offer our vision expertise in a convenient location to residents.”
About Vision Express
Vision Express is one of the largest optical retailers in the UK and part of GrandVision, the global leader in optical retail operating in more than 40 countries, spanning over 6,500 stores and online.
With almost 600 stores nationwide, Vision Express first opened its doors in Newcastle in 1988. Built on a passion for the profession, it has gone from strength to strength, driven by a commitment to unparalleled customer service and providing the best individual optical care, the right product and great value. Customers can select from a vast range of genuine designer brands and the latest technology lenses, through to complete glasses from £39.
With around 6,000 employees, Vision Express makes a significant difference to the communities it operates within, and the organisations it chooses to support. As part of its commitment to Vision. Taken Seriously, and as a responsible and caring retailer, Vision Express is proud to partner with a range of healthcare charities, which have touched the lives of customers and teams. These companies provide vital support to people affected by vision-related conditions. They are part of the Vision Express Charity Project and include:
- Childhood Eye Cancer Trust (CHECT)
- International Glaucoma Association
- Macular Society
- Stroke Association
- Temple Street University Hospital