By Rebecca Drew
THIS MUM was petrified of scaring her KIDS when a spot that turned out to be SKIN CANCER left her with a GAPING HOLE on her nose.
In February 2020, health, wellness and empowerment coach Stacy Bowen (45) from Twin Lake, Michigan, USA, first noticed a small scab on the side of her nose whilst staying with family in Florida for the month.
The scab appeared to heal over but fell off whenever Stacy touched it causing her concern so she got it checked out as soon as she was home.
In May, three months after she first noticed the spot on her nose, Stacy was referred to a dermatologist where she was officially diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma (BCC) – a type of non-melanoma skin cancer – after a biopsy.
Whilst Stacy was relieved that the skin cancer she had wasn’t malignant, she was worried about how her two children, Presley (10) and Priya (9), would react to her after she had undergone surgery to remove the affected skin on her nose.
In September, Stacy underwent Mohs surgery – a surgical technique used to remove affected skin cells without causing too much damage to the surrounding healthy tissue. Stacy was told by the specialist that she would lose half of her right nostril and that the hole that was left would need to be built back up using tissue from her cheek. The surgery has left her with no sensation in the affected area of her face.
The mum of two has never been a ‘sun worshipper’ nor has she ever dedicated her time to topping up her tan but she admits she never went over the top wearing sun hats, suncream, or clothes to protect her skin when she was enjoying outdoor activities like hiking or trips to the beach – and she was never told by doctors that her fair skin would mean she had a higher risk of developing skin cancer later in life.
Stacy was petrified that she would scare her daughters after her surgery but they have supported her throughout her ordeal and have kept her strong and reassured her about how good she looks throughout the healing process.
Now she is sharing her story to raise awareness of sun exposure and empower other women facing a similar challenge.
“I felt scared about the diagnosis,” said Stacy.
“I didn’t find out for a week after the biopsy that the skin cancer was benign and not malignant – the killing kind. The waiting was incredibly stressful but I was relieved it was only benign.
“I had a friend who passed away from malignant skin cancer at the age of twenty-three. By the time she was diagnosed, it had spread throughout her body.
“I was scheduled for the MOHS procedure to have the spot removed in September of 2020 and when I arrived at the dermatologists office, I was informed by the doctor that because of the location he would need to get plastic surgery involved.
“I knew from my own medical background that this was not a good thing. I realised in that moment that this was not going to be a simple ‘scrape the spot’ procedure and skip happily away for more 2020 fun.
“I saw the plastic surgeon who looked at my nose and informed me that I would be losing half of my nostril on the right side of my nose and that I would have cheek tissue implanted into the nose area and cartilage tissue inserted from the ear to rebuild the structure of the nose back up.
“He then proceeded to pull up the pictures online for me to look at. I remember sitting there, seeing the pictures and I broke down badly. I didn’t see this one coming at least not to this extent.
“I was speechless. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t ask questions. I couldn’t comprehend what was happening. All I could think about was not scaring my girls when they looked at me.
“Recovery treatment has been just as emotional as physical. I have had to accept that I not only had skin cancer but that I have a 50 per cent chance of getting it again and there’s nothing I can do at this point.
“I have also had to accept the fact that my face will never be the same as it was pre-cancer. The week after surgery was the worst. I looked like I had gotten in a fight with a heavyweight boxer and he definitely won.
“Recovery consisted of my bed and staying home, no exercising, no strenuous activities, only rest and recovery. The twenty plus stitches were removed ten days later and healing continued with a slow progression into being active again. I am over one month out now and able to do everything I could before.
“I still have no feeling on the right side of my nose but I don’t think about it much. I will be left with some slight scars and the grafted skin areas are still very red. I have no sensation in the grafted skin and I’m told the regeneration of this tissue can take up to a year.
“I am more conscious of my face now even though everyone else says they don’t notice it and it’s healing great. I am hopeful and optimistic that healing will contribute to improve the overall appearance of the scars left behind.
“I have never hidden anything from my girls and I wasn’t going to hide this as I don’t want them to feel like they ever have to hide stuff from me.
“I took the bandages off the same day I had surgery. I sat my girls down and I told them, ‘Girls, this is life and these are the things that happen when we are not mindful and I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I did and going through stuff like this is how we become stronger. It is life.’
“By the end of the night, Presley, Priya and I were joking about me not having to dress up for Halloween and how I could just throw some fake blood on my face and I was ready to roll.
“I tossed off the face mask that week and embraced my ‘new face.’ My girls continued to tell me week after week, sometimes daily, how good my face looked and how well it was healing.”
Stacy’s cancer ordeal has made her extra vigilant when it comes to sun protection – not only for herself but her children as well.
Before cancer she would wear SPF 30 sunscreen sporadically but now Stacy wears SPF 50+ every day without fail.
“I have never been a ‘sun worshipper’ as I would call it, but I spent time outdoors and at the beach a lot as I’m very active,” she said.
“I never went over the top with the hats, sunglasses, sunblock, and clothes to protect my skin as I don’t think most people consciously do. I never knew or imagined that due to my fair skin in general I had a higher risk of developing skin cancer later in life.
“For the healing and scars now, I use Wound Care by NeoRelief which is an all-natural healing/scarring agent and I also use Vitamin E daily.
“I use sunblock SPF50+ everyday now as a foundation. I wear more hats, more sunglasses and am much more aware of my skin, the sun and the long term damage it can cause.
“I now make my girls wear sunblock and cover up as well. My girls have beautiful dark skin and brown up so amazingly in the sun – they never burn but I’ve learned that this fact does not matter where skin cancer is concerned. It doesn’t pick and choose its victims.
“Stay strong, remember that you are here to live another day. Your face, your features, your figure do not define you. Superficial beauty is skin deep, true beauty is found within your soul. You can and will overcome this. You are not alone.
“You will be stronger from your battle scars, they may knock you down for a while but they have not and will not keep you down. We find strength from our struggles.
“My pursuit, my passion, and my purpose now is to bring women together who are dealing with specific life battles – to unite, support, empower, encourage and educate all women to be their best selves and to reach their full potential, to spread love, light, equality and real beauty in a world of superficiality through SHE Warrior Women.”