Who would fancy me now?
The lump just kept growing day by day. Then went hard
I had just a 20 per cent chance of survival…
Peering in the mirror, I prodded a spongy lump that had recently appeared on the side of my nose. It didn’t hurt and wasn’t red, so I was certain it was nothing to worry about.
It was July 1998, I was 26, had just married the perfect bloke and was pursuing my dream career as a saxophonist – plus, I was healthy and happy.
But the lump on my nose was growing day by day then, almost overnight, it went hard.
So I went to the doctor, who said it was probably just a sinus inflammation, and I was prescribed antibiotics. I prayed the swelling would shrink, instead it grew and ached.
One day, I filled my car with petrol and my sunglasses toppled from my head and bumped my nose – the pain was crippling!
I went back to the doctor who, thinking it was a cyst, tried to drain it.
Nothing came out, so I was booked in for a biopsy and the sample was sent to several specialists around the world.
Finally, weeks later, the doctor had got my diagnosis…
I had osteogenic sarcoma, a cancer that starts in the bone.
It’s rare to have it in the nose and I was only the sixth case recorded in medical history.
Also, I had just a 20 per cent chance of survival.
‘It’s a very aggressive form of cancer. We have to act now,’ the doctor added.
Diagnosed on the Friday, I was back in hospital for chemotherapy on the Monday.
A month later, in November 1998, I had the lump removed.
There was a chance I wouldn’t make it through the operation.
‘It could make you blind, and we may have to remove your eye,’ the doctor warned.
Five surgeons would work on me. They’d remove the tumour, rebuild my nose and then take a skin graft from my left wrist. It took over 12 hours. When I awoke in ICU, I was attached to a morphine drip with a tube down my throat. I was in a lot of pain. A day later, I bravely asked for a mirror…
Staring back at me was a swollen, stitched-up face.
A plaster-like graft, an entirely different shade to the rest of my face, was sewn onto my nose.
My road to recovery was long.
Housebound, it took six months to get through it.
Pressing my lips to the saxophone three months later, I found surgery had damaged the nerves in my face, too.
I could barely play. It was heartbreaking.
Bald because of chemo, with scars on my face and a cast on my arm, I was so self-conscious about the way I looked.
‘What’s wrong with that woman’s face?’ kids would stare when I eventually went out
Two years after surgery, I had many reconstructive surgeries. But it didn’t hide the scars. Sadly, when I was 38, my husband and I split up.
Although he’d been really supportive to me, it was time
to go our separate ways…
Finding it hard to imagine anyone finding me attractive, I struggled to meet anyone new.
In 2014, after a plastic surgeon told me about forehead flap nasal reconstruction surgery, I did some research, and felt a surge of excitement!
I needed this surgery to change my life.
I’d given up, barely bothering with my face or hair, thinking I’d never look pretty again…
But the prospect of this surgery filled me with hope. In October 2015, I went for it. ‘There will be three stages,’ the surgeon explained to me.
But I was ready for the pain and long recovery.
A complex and exhaustive process, I prayed it’d be worth it, as skin from my forehead was transplanted to my nose. The old skin grafts were removed, then, everything was repositioned, including the tip of my eyebrow.
‘It’s all done!’ the surgeon said after, when he came to see me in Recovery. He’d done an amazing job. I now feel so much better about the way I look. There’s still work to be done, as the surgery scars are very visible. Though the initial surgery was covered by the equivalent of the NHS here – I’m now fundraising to have private treatment to hide the scarring even more.
They’re still noticeable and my self-esteem is very low.
The cancer and surgery has certainly changed my life.
I’m just hoping that one day people are going to see me for me… And not my face.
The prospect of this surgery filled me with hope