By Molly Pennington
THIS MUM-of-two has described how she lives with a huge dent on the left side of her head which was carved out to allow her to survive a one-in-a-million form of skin cancer.
After public relations specialist Barbora Hájková (38) from Strasnice, Prague had to have part of her skull removed in what medics likened to having to “amputate part of her head” pictures show how this brave lady made it through a gruelling eight-hour operation that removed a nine by twelve centimetre chunk of her skull to save her from a tumour.
This type of tumour is so rare, it had only previously been recorded growing in six cases worldwide in the same area as it was found in Barbora’s head, however she now lives a full and cancer-free life with part of her head missing.
When Barbora’s partner programmer and photographer Ilja (41) first ever spotted a lump on the side of her head, she dismissed his concerns that her face seemed to have changed.
Ilja was eventually able to convince Barbora to go to her doctor, who referred her to an ear, nose, and throat specialist at the Royal Vinohrady University Hospital, Prague.
After extensive examination, Barbora was finally sent for a sonogram and then a biopsy, which revealed that she had Dermatofibrosarcoma Protuberans.
Dermatofibrosarcoma Protuberans is an incredibly rare type of cancer diagnosed in around one-in-a-million people annually, that causes a tumour to develop in the deep layers of skin.
The tumour almost never develops past the skin, but a CT scan revealed that in Barbora’s case it had spread to her skull.
Doctors told Barbora that she was one of an estimated SEVEN people worldwide who had had Dermatofibrosarcoma Protuberans in this area.
Surgeons decided that there was only one option: a part of Barbora’s skull would have to be removed.
On the 31st of July 2017, she underwent an eight-hour operation that saw the removal of part of her skull, ear, and jaw. The hole was then packed with muscles and skin taken from Barbora’s back.
Afterwards, Barbora was so unrecognisable that her then-15-month-old daughter Margaret was afraid of her.
However, just six months later, Barbora was cancer free and pregnant with her son Stepanek, now aged four.
Now Barbora is living life to the fullest. She spends a lot of time with her young children, who she says are the “meaning” of her life. She also works as a PR specialist for the Fuck Cancer project, which aims to raise awareness and help cancer patients, and she is also involved in other health awareness projects.
“My partner pointed out to me that I looked a bit different and made me go and see my GP,” Barbora said.
“Honestly, if it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have gone and it’s hard to say how things would be with me now.
“A visit to the district doctor did not give me a clear explanation for the lump on my head.
“After 14 days of doctors examining my mysterious lump, I was finally sent for a sonogram.
“I have to say that I was slightly annoyed by the examinations and I didn’t want to go anywhere else, as I was convinced that there was nothing wrong with me and that I had a fatty lump on my head at most.
“However, the sonogram showed that it probably wasn’t that trivial, so I was sent for a biopsy.
“At this point, I was getting slightly anxious, but I wasn’t imagining any horror scenarios.
“The wait was uncomfortable, but even more uncomfortable were the results: Dermatofibrosarcoma Protuberans.
“The doctor told me it was great news and to celebrate. I was honestly overjoyed. It sounds strange now that I think back on it.”
The reason doctors were so relieved was that this type of cancer very rarely spreads. However, further tests revealed that Barbora had been unlucky.
“I set up a scenario in my head where I would go to the ENT outpatient clinic and have the lump cut out under local anaesthesia,” Barbora said.
“The morning I rushed for the CT scan and the head of the ENT clinic personally called me to come to him right after.
“The CT scan showed that my tumour had started to bite my skull, which meant only one thing: it was necessary to remove part of it.
“The doctor told me, ‘if you had it on a limb, for example, it would be optimal to treat it by amputation, but we simply cannot amputate your head!’
“I couldn’t sleep at night.
“It wasn’t entirely clear what they would have to cut out of my head and how much the tumour had burrowed into my skull. All this would only become apparent during the operation.”
The operation ultimately left Babora with a large hole in her head. She was initially devastated by her appearance, but she soon learned to accept and embrace her scars.
She has taken part in national campaigns to raise awareness for cancer and to highlight the importance of self-love and body positivity.
“Apart from the pain in my head and the rest of my body after the surgery, I was not completely fine mentally,” Babora said.
“I was still waiting for the pathology results and was tense for several weeks.
“Margaret hugged me for the first time a week after the operation. Until then, she was afraid of me.
“I have to admit that I didn’t look much like me with the swollen head, bruises and bandages.
“For a few weeks my head was swollen as if I had been attacked by a swarm of bees and the scars were quite visible.
“I just didn’t feel too good and at first I was really ashamed of my scarred and leaky body.
“Eventually, I decided to share my story and started writing posts on Facebook and Instagram. It was and is a kind of my personal therapy, and thanks to many beautiful responses I have to say that I have made peace with myself.
“I am doing well and the fact that my head is not exactly round doesn’t bother me anymore.
“I didn’t have to undergo any further cancer treatment after the surgery. The surgery was a very radical solution and I am under a lot of scrutiny from the doctors as this monster tends to come back.
“Time is very precious to me and I don’t want to waste it.
“I work as a PR specialist for the F*ck Cancer project, which aims to raise awareness and help cancer patients, and I am also involved in other health awareness projects.
“This experience has given me patience, a new perspective on the world and on life values, and a feeling that I really have something to fight for.
“But most of all I’m grateful for the fact that I am healthy and I can live my life, which I don’t intend to waste.”