We often feature individuals who have been affected by melanoma in our MY Stories. This time around, we want to introduce you to an incredibly strong and inspiring individual, Marisha Dotson who has been diagnosed with an aggressive form of squamous cell carcinoma. While squamous cell carcinoma is a non-melanoma skin cancer and is usually not life-threatening, aggressive forms of the cancer can grow quickly and cause disfigurement, and may spread to other parts of the body which can result in serious complications. Marisha has been brave enough to share her story with us and our readers, with the intention to help others who may go through a similar experience, as well as to encourage early skin cancer detection and prevention practices.
Here is Marisha’s story.
How did you discover you had skin cancer? What type or stage did/do you have?
The first indication that something was wrong was a rash-like redness on the tip of my nose. This developed into a pimple-like formation. I went to a student clinic that treated me with antibiotics. The spot grew in color and to a massive size in only two month’s time. I then was sent to a dermatologist for a biopsy which confirmed an extremely aggressive strain of squamous cell carcinoma. It had spread over most of my nose and inner tissues by this point. Two weeks later, I had moh’s surgery to excise the tumor in which I lost over two-thirds of my nose, cartilage, septum, and inner nose tissue.
What has been the primary cancer treatment facility involved in your care? What have treatments been like for you?
I had the tumor removed at Oak Ridge Dermatology Associates. The procedure I had was moh’s surgery where the tumor is removed and then layers are removed until all cancerous tissue has been removed. In my case, it took fifteen hours, ten stages, and extreme loss of tissue. I have undergone two reconstructive surgeries since August, with at least two more planned within the next few months if I can get my health insurance issue figured out. Farragut ENT & Allergy with Dr. Mathison has been my primary treatment provider. He’s amazing and my hero! I developed a seroma and cavity in the tissue that is now healing. He has devoted so much of his time to oversee my healing process and try to make this easier for me.
What would you say has been the most impactful experience from your skin cancer diagnosis and treatment?
This is a hard question to answer. I have learned more about myself and others through this experience. Most people have been supportive, but there has been a percentage of people that have not dealt appropriately with the stages my healing face is going through. This has caused me to really evaluate the pressure and values of what society deems beautiful. The best and most beautiful part of my experience is the amount of love and support I have received. This has given me a platform to share my experience with others and maybe even save a life with the knowledge I am gaining. I am a very independent woman, and it seems life has been one obstacle after another for me. It has been insightful for me to know there are so many wonderful people in this world.
Do you believe tanning or sunbathing was a factor in your developing skin cancer?
I went to a tanning bed once in high school and was burned so badly I never went back. My condition is rarely seen in someone my age. It is most likely a combination of bad sunburns when I was a child and a cell mutation that randomly went astray. I have really pale skin and fall into most of the risk factors for skin cancer.
You have been through a great deal in your young life, including losing your mother at 16 and having to raise yourself and your younger brother on your own. What has given you strength through such hardships?
My mother was very sick growing up and could not care for us in the traditional way. However, I have never doubted the great love she had for us. As I grow older, I understand more of how difficult her struggle to survive and care for us must have been. She was a strong woman, and I would like to think some of her strength is living in me. I am very tenacious and determined. Love is a strong motivation for me to be the best person I can be. I would do anything for my brother and the people I love. I believe things happen for a reason, and if I can touch someone’s life with my good and bad experiences, then what I have been through has more meaning. Finally, my faith has gotten me through so many awful and tragic experiences. Even when things seem like I will not make it though or it will never get better, I know in the end it will always work out.
What has been your greatest challenge since your diagnosis?
One of the greatest challenges has been trusting others to help me. I have done everything on my own for so long, sometimes it is hard to ask for help when you really need it. I want others to know it is okay to ask for help. I believe as a people we are meant to love one another and help each other out. The next greatest struggle has been accepting my recovery process. I want to be able to do things the way I used to and be who I was before this happened. I miss my face the way it was, which is strange to say. My face doesn’t define me, but the way it was before was a part of me. Sometimes I grieve for the girl I was before I was diagnosed with cancer. It is crazy how cancer and the subsequent surgeries have changed every detail of life for me. I am on a long recovery, and my face will never look the same again. Giving myself time to heal without restricting myself to unrealistic expectations is a daily struggle.
What would you most like people to know about you?
Even though I struggle from time to time with how other people react to my healing process, I am PROUD of my scars. I have earned the scars. I will keep my chin up and encourage others who have similar experiences and scar tissue to do the same. I will not allow what I have been through to be devalued by people who don’t understand or who are too immature to understand. Scars are beautiful. Defy society’s standards of beauty, because we are all beautiful. I believe life is what we make of it, and to make something wonderful out of something that maybe didn’t begin that way. I am very grateful for my doctors and people who have demonstrated great love to me. I will spend the rest of my life paying it forward to help others.
Is there an inspirational quote, song, or book that inspires you that you’d like to share?
Sometimes when I have a hard day, I tell myself… “Fighting gives me strength.”
“Remember that happiness is a way of travel, not a destination.” – Roy Goodman
“So much sadness exists in the world that we are all under obligation to contribute as much joy as lies within our powers.” – John Sutherland Bonnell.
What advice would you give someone who thinks skin cancer won’t happen to them or someone they love?
Don’t let this fallacy cost you pain or even your life. As someone who is on this journey, It is not a gamble worth taking. I am so young, and I have been wearing sunscreen for the last few years. I never considered I would have skin cancer. Maybe if I had been more informed, I wouldn’t have lost so much of my nose to the tumor. Our skin is what protects us and as such should be treated with care and informed knowledge. Stay away from tanning beds because that tan is not worth the consequences and risks involved. Even if you are young, what you do to your skin now will affect you later in life. Take that few minutes to put sunscreen on now so you don’t have to pay for it later.