When Marisha Doston noticed a small, red bump on her nose three years ago, she initially didn't think much of it. Then the painful "pimple" doubled in size, snowballing into a medical nightmare that would leave the Knoxville, Tennessee, woman missing half of her face.
The first mysterious spot appeared in 2014, essentially disguised as a run-of-the mill blemish. But when it continued to grow and ache, Doston visited her student health service to get an expert opinion. Medics diagnosed the spot as "'a weird form of acne' or an infection," she recalls, but the pain and swelling didn't go away. Once she started to feel feverish, Doston finally visited a dermatologist for help.
The specialist identified the mark as squamous cell carcinoma, an extremely-aggressive form of skin cancer. Doston needed an operation to remove the spot right away, but once she went under the knife, surgeons discovered that the cancer had spread much farther than they initially thought.
"My tumor was like a jellyfish with cancerous tentacles reaching deep into my face," Doston told Caters News. "Despite having 300 shots of anaesthetic to my face, it still hurt as they continued to cut and burn each layer, so close to my nerves and sinuses."
When the 15-hour procedure finally ended, Doston had lost most of her nose. Surgeons then moved skin from her scalp and cartilage from her ear to help close the enormous gap. But after Doston underwent facial reconstruction, more cancerous spots appeared on her cheek and nose, as well as under her eye.
Doston would eventually undergo over 30 surgeries to remove the carcinomas and rebuild her face. She now uses a temporary mouthpiece to eat, talk and smile, since she also lost part of her jaw and eight teeth to the disease. Despite the years of hardship, the 28-year-old is still just thankful that the cancer didn't take her life.
"I earned these scars and should be proud of them as they are a testament of my will to live, the blood, sweat and tears I shed to survive," she says. "The damage I have now I will live with for the rest of my life. I've given up on the cosmetic side of things and just feel so lucky to be alive."
Doston, who lost her mother at the age of 16, credits her brother as her motivation to keep fighting. Her determination finally paid off last year when doctors finally cleared Doston as cancer-free.
"Before I had gotten so used to bad results that I couldn't believe it when something good happened," she says. " I started crying and have even framed my pathology report."
While the worst is now over, Doston is still faced with the remaining medical bills. She's currently crowd-funding for a permanent mouthpiece so she doesn't have to deal with constant infections. But given the 20% chance she had of surviving this form of cancer, Doston knows she's incredibly lucky.
"I've beaten cancer multiple times and overcome some truly scary odds," she says. "Some of my friends call me 'the walking miracle' and I don't argue with them because it's true."
[h/t Daily Mail]
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