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Reflections of You

It is our personal joy, confidence, and accomplishment that will eventually melt the scars that others see. I hope all visitors will find strength in these stories, and know that with one another's support we can all find happiness in our differences.

Visitor: Joan Miller
Condition: Squamous cell carcinoma affecting orbital area, with eventual removal of left eye, various bone and tissue.

Below is Joan's account of her journey with cancer, told in her words with a manner of incredible calm and heroic acceptance. And a happy ending to share when a remarkable orbital prosthesis restored her appearance.
Please note: Joan refers to Mohs surgery in her essay, and for those of you who are unfamiliar, this procedure is very desirable when addressing various skin cancers. It serves to remove cancerous tissue more precisely in order to spare healthy tissue.

My bump in the road of life started in August 2004 at the age of 74. Being blessed with very good health all through my life, I didn’t think this could be anything serious. It started with a red crusty spot under the left eyebrow. I consulted a dermatologist in California and was told that the margins were clear after two biopsies.

I moved to Arizona in April 2005. In June of 2005 the spot returned. I saw Dr. Richard Averitte, a dermatologist in Scottsdale, and a report of his biopsy indicated that it was squamous cell carcinoma, very invasive and deep. Dr. Averitte referred me to Dr. William McLeish, a specialist in oculoplastic and facial reconstructive surgery. These two wonderful doctors were very involved in not only knowing their field, but following through with other qualified doctors for help in trying to save my eye.

On August 2, 2005, my first Mohs surgery, performed by the compassionate Dr. Rajiv Kwatra, took six hours. The procedure removed part of my eyebrow and part of the eyelid, and the bone underneath the eyebrow was shaved down. The following day Dr. McLeish performed reconstruction surgery.

Radiation was recommended starting in September 2005, five days a week for six weeks. Nevertheless, a spot developed on the inner corner of my eye area in July of 2006, and a second Mohs surgery was scheduled with Dr. Kwatra on July 11, 2006. He was unable to see clear margins after going in four times and, consequently, Dr. McLeish scheduled surgery for the 18th of July as it was necessary to remove the eye.

In September of 2006, I had a second radiation series, Intensive Modulated Radiation Treatment, five days a week for six weeks. By November, redness, drainage and swelling around the area seemed to become more prevalent and it was recommended by my oncologist in December that I see a wound specialist. This culminated in a meeting with Dr. John Stein and hyperbaric oxygen treatments began in January 2007 for five days a week, six weeks total. During all this time, MRI scans, PET scans and CT scans were authorized at different intervals by my doctors.

Everything seemed to be going along fine until a lump and redness was noticed around the eye area and forehead in April of 2007. A biopsy was performed by Dr. McLeish and it confirmed that the squamous cell cancer had invaded the remaining portion of the left eye area.

I was referred to Dr. John Raines, a head and neck surgeon. Dr. Raines and Dr. Edward Joganic, a cranial facial plastic surgeon, requested more scans and it was determined that the cancer had invaded the eye socket area, the bone above that area and the forehead to the right of that area. These two doctors performed a resection, removing tissue that had been radiated and bone at the eye socket, replacing it with bone and muscle from the left side of the head. They were able to bring scalp and the top of the cheek area together to form a flat area on the face. The hairline now forms a small V into the forehead.

I truly appreciate these two Doctors’ skills and their ongoing interest in my welfare. They are both incredible. Additionally, I must add that my insurance carrier, Secure Horizons, has been extremely helpful and accommodating in approving all of the doctors and procedures necessary for me to continue on with life.

With all this said and done, I was fortunate to find Mr. David Trainer, a maxillofacial-opththalmic prosthetist who performed a miracle with his talent. I now have my two eyes back—a prosthesis which is attached to my eyeglasses—and rarely does anyone notice that I look different at 78 than I did when all this started at 74. The most important recommendation I can make is “stay positive and know that all will turn out as it should.”

Joan's story posted: 02/14/09

Visitor: Pam
Condition: Facial paralysis after removal of a brain tumor in 1984.

Pam, 44, is a Records/Law Counter with her local police department, and is a woman who has handled her health challenges with great courage and spirit. After the removal of a brain tumor twenty years ago, she underwent multiple surgeries to restore mobility to her face, functionality to her eyelids, and symmetry to her face.

Below is Pam's account of her experience with her brain tumor and subsequent surgeries:

Nov/Dec of 1983 I was having severe headaches every day -- (sickening migranes). I was working full-time during the day as a secretary and going to school at night to be a court-reporter. I thought my neck was out of place so I was seeing a Chiropractor three times a week for several weeks. I finally told the Chiropractor I was getting no relief and kiddingly said, "For all I know I could have a brain tumor." He said, "On no! Don't say that!"

I then went to see my regular MD, who immediately sent me to Mercy Hospital in Bakersfield, California -- where I was living, and within an hour of getting home he called to tell me I had a brain tumor (an Acoustic Neuroma).

After meeting with a great neurosurgeon, Dr. Steven Harris, he assured us that it probably was benign, but there was a 50% chance I would lose movement on the left side of my face as well as hearing in my left ear. At that point, I still thought I was pretty invincible. "Oh no! That couldn't happen to ME!"

It did!! Two weeks later, a week after Christmas I had the tumor removed and was paralyzed on the left side of my face, lost hearing in the left ear, had no control of my left eye, and the tear ducts either worked or didn't. The tumor, however, was not cancerous.

My doctor told me about a reconstructive surgeon in San Mateo, Dr. Buncke. He apparently had some success in a surgery he devised to help return symmetry to faces and movement to those with none.

After traveling to San Mateo (many trips) for a four-part surgery, not one was successful. All he managed to do was cut a scar into my cheek (to look like a laugh line), which was simply a hideous mistake. Do I sound bitter about that???

Next, I was told about another surgeon in San Francisco, the Chief Reconstructive/Plastic Surgeon at the University of San Francisco, California...Dr. Steven Mathis. I've undergone nine surgeries with him. He has helped me quite a bit: there was a muscle implant from my breast that he tried to use, however, that was not successful, but was able to tighten my face to where it wouldn't droop from non-use. He also pinned back my left ear, which totally lost elasticity. In addition, he put a gold-bar weight in my eyelid in order to help it close, and prevent it from drying out so much. Ointment, however, is still needed in my eye (not a lot, but maybe two or four times a week now).

The last reconstructive surgery was in 1999. After all this time, this is the one that finally worked to give me some movement back on the left side. He took my temporal muscle and flapped it down into my cheek area. He connected it so that when I move my mouth or grit my teeth a certain way...that side will move. This surgery has brought much movement to that side of my face, but it is disfiguring, odd looking, strange, bulky, etc.

Pam's story posted: 11/09/03