A SUN worshipper who prided herself on owning at least 40 pairs of “bling” fake designer shades with no UV protection believes they cost her an eye.

Chris Willcocks wore them all year round, but particularly loved the way they set her outfits off on annual trips to Turkey and Spain with her builder husband, Graham, 61.

Thurrock Gazette:

Relieved - Chris with her sister Sherriel, above, and, below, with her family

Thurrock Gazette:

Then, in August last year, Chris, from Basildon, suddenly went blind in her right eye and her life changed forever.

Doctors diagnosed with ocular cancer, which she believes was caused by sun damage.

She is now speaking out to urge people to have regular eye tests, after admitting that she had been “putting them off for years” and to warn against buying cheap sunglasses.

The 59-year-old said: “I’d woken up bright and early and went into work to make the most of it.

“I was walking briskly along a corridor when, suddenly, it was like all the lights had gone out.

“’I’ve gone blind, I’ve gone blind!’ I cried, as my colleagues sat me down.

“I was so panicked I could hardly think, and the next thing I knew I was in an ambulance.”

She was given an MRI scan at Basildon Hospital and doctors told her the blood vessels in her eye had burst because of ocular melanoma - a type of cancer in the eye, often caused by over exposure to sunlight.

And things went from bad to worse when she was transferred to an eye specialist at Southend Hospital.

She added: “The next thing I knew I was being told my right eye needed to be removed as soon as possible.

“When they told me it was sun damage that caused the cancer I was utterly devastated.

“I always went for the blingiest sunglasses - I just loved the glamour, unfortunately, and they had clearly done nothing to protect my eyes.”

Further devastating news followed when Chris was told her right eye needed to be removed forthwith.

The former care home manager added: “The doctor looked at the back of my eye and almost immediately told me that it needed to be removed instantly.

“I was told the tumour was too large for any other possible treatment.”

Despite everything, Chris tried to stay strong to protect her husband and her sons Lee, 36, a joiner, and Luke 30, a landscaper.

“It was just so upsetting,” she said. “I tried to stay strong for the family, though. That’s what mums do.

“My tears were kept behind closed doors but they were there.”

Thurrock Gazette:

Couple - Chris with her husband Graham

Chris was booked in for the hour-long operation at The Royal Liverpool Hospital, in September 2018.

The mum of two added: “Moments before the operation, it really hit me that I was going to lose my eye for good.”

She was released after an overnight stay, with surgery declared a resounding success. But she locked herself away for several weeks after returning home.

“Part of it was self-consciousness, but part of me just felt silly,” she explained.

“Silly that I’d worn those cheap sunglasses for all those years, over all those summers.

“I must have had at least 40 pairs and I’d barter the shopkeepers down from 10 euros to about six or seven for a pair.”

Despite her fears, Chris - complete with a custom lens to match her left eye - was impressed with the result.

She said: “It’s absolutely brilliant. You wouldn’t be able to tell it’s fake - they’ve done a marvellous job.”

But, just when things were looking up, Chris was dealt another blow in April when scans revealed the cancer had spread to her liver.

She said: “The day I was told the cancer had spread wasn’t a very good day at all... it was hard.”

In May 2019 she began a year-long course of immunotherapy, which involves visiting Southend Hospital once a fortnight for a five hour session.

“The side effects can be tough. I’m tired all the time. I’ve had to take time off work because I’m so fatigued. But I’m hopeful for the future - I have to be,” she added.

Doctors told Chris they are hopeful that at the end of her treatment her cancer will go into remission. But, in the meantime, she is keen to raise awareness about the dangers of wearing cheap sunglasses and the need to have regular eye tests, adding: “People need to know the facts.”

“It frightens me how many people out there are wearing these sunglasses with next to no sun protection,” she said, admitting that she had not had an eye test for over four years.

“I just want to shout at them and tell them my story.

“I spent years using reading glasses off the shelf which is why I didn’t go to the opticians for so long.

“I just wish I’d have known they weren’t an alternative to going and seeing a professional and getting my eyes tested properly. I wish the packaging on those things made it clear you need to go to the opticians regularly.

“Really, I’d like to ban cheap sunglasses without UV protection altogether but, for now, I’ve got to focus on raising awareness.

“It’s like smoking used to be - people need to know the facts.

“And, at least, if you’re going to buy cheap glasses then make sure you go for an eye test. They cost next to nothing. I was always being told by friends and family to go and I completely ignored them.

“Doctors said if it wasn’t for my blood vessels bursting I could have sat there for months and months as the cancer grew and grew.

“In a way, going blind saved my life. I dread to think what might have happened if I hadn’t.”