I couldn't look at myself after acne scar turned cancerous and left gaping hole in my nose

WHEN Melissa Fife's small acne scar started to scab and flake, she didn’t think much of it.

But little did she know it was the start of a gruelling battle with cancer that would leave a gaping hole in her nose.

Melissa, from Salt Lake City, Utah, US, started noticing changes to her nose scar in early 2020.

The 40-year-old said: “My scar started to get irritated. Skin would flake off and it would scab easily.

“The scar started to get larger and more deformed – I was embarrassed about how it looked. I thought it was purely cosmetic and that it was my fault that it kept getting bigger.

“I decided to see a plastic surgeon for a consultation to find out what my options were for scar revision.

“The surgeon only had to look at it for about 20 seconds to tell me that he thought it was skin cancer. He recommended that I go to a dermatologist to get a biopsy.”

Melissa immediately scheduled an appointment and had the biopsy results a few days later.

The marketing specialist was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma skin cancer (BCC), which makes up around 75 per cent of all skin cancers.

Although most people look for changes in moles, this type of skin cancer can show on the skin in many ways, being mistaken for spots or scars.

Melissa had worked in outdoor events for around a decade and says she wore high SPF suncream every day.

Docs said Melissa needed four stages of a procdure called Mohs surgery – an operation done under local anaesthetic where the cancerous tissue is cut out.

Melissa said: “It entails cutting the cancerous skin out and examining it under a microscope to determine if all of the cancerous cells have been removed.

"If the doctor sees the cancer extending outside the borders of the cut, he takes a larger cut of skin."

Left with a gaping hole

She added: “Between surgeries, I had an open wound on my nose where the skin had been removed."

“The doctor told me to keep it covered with a bandage, and change it every couple of days.

“This was very emotional for me. I didn’t want to see the open wound. I felt that it would be too traumatic to see how graphic it looked – I cried several times thinking about it.

“My family members were kind enough to help me change the bandage so I wouldn’t have to look at it.”

But eventually, Melissa decided she needed to look at her wound, and felt devastated.

“I needed to see the wound in all its mess so that I could fully understand what I’ve been through and what I’m healing from,” she said.

A new nose

Her last surgery Melissa had was a reconstruction of her nose done by taking a skin graft from her collarbone.

She said: “They took a section of skin near my collarbone area and grafted it to my nose.”

A week after the skin graft surgery, Melissa panicked that the skin had died.

“It looked like there was a piece of dried-up, dead zombie skin sewn on my face,” she said.

Melissa’s new nose is starting to even out and the new skin is becoming pink.

But she said: “It’s also very thick – it doesn’t match the thickness of the skin on my face. It looks as though there’s a sticker made out of skin that was stuck on my face.

“One of my nostrils has partially collapsed, and has been that way since surgery, so I’m hoping that there will be a way to reconstruct the nostril and smooth out the skin graft."

Now that Melissa is beginning to recover from her surgeries, she has been reflecting on her experience with cancer and how it has affected her.

She said: “When I had the open wound, I wanted to hide, but I realised I was hiding from myself.

“My appearance had been very important to me, and I couldn’t bear to see my face that way.

“I’ve tried to make an effort to not hide. I post pictures of my nose on social media, because I want people to know they aren’t alone.

“I once had an opera director describe how beauty doesn’t necessarily mean ‘pretty’.

“I’m happier, bolder, and unashamed of how I look. Most importantly, I’m grateful every day for the chance to heal.”

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