Vision Express has opened its new Cleveland Centre store with help from a special guest – childhood eye cancer survivor Nicole Beddard.

Nicole was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a rare form of eye cancer, in both eyes when she was just three months old. Following life-saving surgery to remove her left eye, she then underwent treatment including cryotherapy and radiotherapy to remove the five tumors in her remaining eye.

At the age of five she was given the all clear but later at eight years old, a cataract began forming in her right eye.

The 25-year-old from Stockton-On-Tees, explained: “Throughout school, college and my undergraduate degree I covered half of my face as I had become ashamed of what I looked like.

“At the end of university, I realised it doesn’t matter what people think; all that matters is your own happiness. I have the wonderful support of my family and friends who make me proud of who I am and what I have been through.

“I now wear my first prosthetic eye in a ring as it creates a great conversation starter.”

Since studying for a master’s degree in health psychology and clinical skills at Teesside university, Nicole has set up a research project to spread awareness of the rare eye cancer and help those affected by it.

As part of her role as an ambassador for the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust (CHECT), Nicole was invited to be guest of honour for Vision Express. She joined the Middlesbrough store team, and performed an official ribbon cutting, as it unveiled its new home in Wesley Mall, in the Cleveland shopping centre. It has had a store in the centre for the past 10 years.

CHECT, one of Vision Express’ nominated charities, raises awareness of retinoblastoma, also known as Rb. Around 50 to 60 cases of Rb are diagnosed each year and while 90% of those diagnosed will survive, they may face having an eye removed or have lasting impairment issues.

Middlesbrough store manager Peter Bunce and his team, who together have over 90 year’s combined optical experience, welcomed Nicole into their new store.

Peter said: “Our thanks go to Nicole for making our opening such a huge success. As a child and into adulthood she has showed so much courage and her bravery is an inspiration to us all. It was very humbling hearing her story.

“Today’s event has been a great opportunity to raise awareness of retinoblastoma and the symptoms to look out for. Many people don’t realise how vital regular eye tests are to detect serious conditions as well as sight defects.”

Vision Express offers an eye test to best practice guidelines of the College of Optometrists (COO), with each Vision Express optometrist being a qualified eye health professional. To book an eye test at Middlesbrough store call 01642 241815, visit Wesley mall, Cleveland Centre, Middlesbrough TS1 2NP or make an online enquiry at: www.visionexpress.com/book-eye-test/

For more information on retinoblastoma please visit www.chect.org.uk