By Josh Saunders
A cancer survivor embarrassed by the ‘band-aid’ skin graft on her face, hopes surgery will make her ‘normal’ for the first time in nearly two decades.
Rachel Jones, 45, from Scarborough, Western Australia, was only give a 20% chance of survival when the expanding, solid lump on her nose was diagnosed as a deadly osteogenic sarcoma.
She was 26-years-old when surgeons successfully removed the aggressive form of cancer and rebuilt her nose using rib cartilage and skin from her wrist during an intense 12-hour operation.
But due to the skin graft not matching her natural skin colour, Rachel was left feeling like an outcast with strangers staring at her and some believing she had a ‘band-aid’ plaster on her nose.
Two-years-ago she went under the knife to have skin from her forehead transplanted to her nose and despite small improvements she still struggles to deal with the scarring.
Now she is fundraising for further surgical revisions to make her look ‘normal’ for the first time since her twenties.
Rachel, an executive assistant, said: “My ultimate goal would be for no one to notice the scars, to look at me strangely when I walk down the street or ask questions about my appearance.
“It’s been very hard dealing with what happened to me, just looking at my face every day in the mirror has been hard and has left me depressed at times
“I have endured years of rude comments and stares from complete strangers, whenever they saw my scars, they would often imply that my nose was abnormal and unattractive to look at.
“One time a pizza delivery guy was so shocked he just pointed at my nose and said, ‘What happened to your face?’ which was tough to hear.
“Some people who worked with me for years thought I just had a band-aid on my nose the whole time, when I found out it made me realise how much I stood out.
“I lived for 17 years with the skin graft on my face that was taken from my wrist, but because it was a different colour to my skin tone it never blended in and could not be concealed with make-up.
“Since having surgery I have been happier, my nose finally looked the right colour and even though the scarring is very obvious I don’t get as many comments.
“I feel a lot more accepted now, but there is still a little way to go for me to feel confident about how I look.
“I always feel like I have to explain my face to people when meeting them for the first time, I just want to blend in and be the same as everyone else.
“It will have been a long road to get that point but I want to feel body positive and like I have a normal face rather than one that’s been rearranged.”
Rachel first noticed the lump on her nose in 1998, but was initially dismissed by her doctor as a possible sinus inflammation.
But after the ‘spongey lump’ became solid, continued to grow and started to ache, Rachel decided to push doctors to start performing tests.
Rachel said: “I became concerned when my sunglasses fell onto my nose and I felt an excruciating pain, that made me realise something was seriously wrong.
“Doctors tried to drain the spot thinking it was a cyst but nothing came out, so a biopsy was sent to six experts in different cities around the world.
“When the results came back I was told it was very rare, as mine was one of only six cases in medical history of an osteosarcoma forming in the nose.”
Due to the deadly nature of the cancer, doctors immediately scheduled two cycles chemotherapy and a major surgery to remove the cancerous tissue and reconstruct her nose.
Rachel said: “As soon as the diagnosis came back, it all happened very quickly, I was told they needed to start chemo right away or I was going to die.
“A month later, I underwent the 12-hour surgery. The tumour had enveloped all the bone in my nose as it grew and once it was removed there was very little bone tissue left.
“So, they took rib cartilage and attached it to my skull with pins and plates to build a new bridge and took skin from my wrist that they attached with its own artery.
“They did this so that the graft had a healthy blood supply to keep it alive.”
Rachel struggled to deal with her appearance following the surgeries to her nose until two-years-ago when she underwent a forehead flap nasal reconstruction.
The reconstruction was performed in three separate surgical procedures, skin was taken from the forehead and grafted onto the nose.
Rachel said: “They took a piece of skin from my forehead, placed it down on my nose and leaving it attached to my forehead by a bridge of skin, through which the blood vessels were connected.
“Then they shaped it by removing some of the fat on the sides of my nose and performed a semi-face lift on my left cheek to cover a section where the skin was excised
“The final step was to cut the ‘bridge’ and reposition the remainder of the skin graft, including the tip of my eyebrow.”
Despite the reconstruction helping her to feel more confident she’s now fundraising to complete the process and reduce the appearance of her scars.
She hopes that by making them less visible she can look ‘normal’ and not be noticed because of her scarring for the first time in nearly 20 years.
Rachel said: “It’s hard to explain how much I long to blend in and not attract attention.
“To do this will take two more surgeries to complete and give me a “normal” looking face at last.
“They will neaten the nose graft and flatten it, revise the scars, correct my crooked eyebrow, pull the skin on forehead together to reduce scarring and revise the skin graft donor site on my wrist.
“While I will still have some scars, I will at least have a chance to look like a regular person once again.”
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