A MUM has learned to love herself again after cancer ate away at her bones and left her permanently disfigured.
Miia Saarinen has now said she has made peace with the way she looks, despite the fact that people stare at her wherever she goes.
The 33-year-old from Finland noticed she had a blocked nose in October 2014 and decided to visit her doctor.
There she was prescribed antibiotics for sinusitis.
After a week of taking the antibiotics her symptoms weren’t getting any better.
Doctors performed puncture tests and X-rays which caused her to pass out and her nose to bleed for hours.
After being referred to a specialist she was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma in December 2014 – a rare cancer in adults that was ‘eating’ the bones around her left sinuses.
Miaa, who is a stay-at-home mum, underwent 10 facial surgeries after doctors discovered the 5cm tumour.
Whilst chemotherapy shrunk her tumour, it further destroyed the bone in the left side of her face, so doctors performed an intense 12 hour operation that left her face permanently disfigured.
Miaa began to lose all confidence because she felt insecure about the visual effects of cancer that meant she had no hair and no face.
In the last five years Miaa has had a further nine facial surgeries and has been given the all clear.
“The first big surgery to take off the tumour and reconstruct my bone was the hardest part of my journey – I lost my face, my smile and myself”, she said.
“I was a funny looking, skinny bald girl with no teeth and a funny face with scars all around my body.
“I avoided people for a long time, so much that it was really hard to see even my closest friends.
“I was cancer free, but my life was a mess.”
What is rhabdomyosarcoma?
Rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) is a type of soft tissue sarcoma that grows in active muscles of the body.
They are extremely rare – about 3,300 new cases are diagnosed each year in the UK.
These are muscles we control (for example, to move arms or legs).
The most common places for rhabdomyosarcoma are the head, neck, bladder, vagina, arms, legs and trunk of the body.
Very rarely, rhabdomyosarcoma can also be found in other places, such as in the prostate gland, middle ear and bile duct system.
There are three types of rhabdomyosarcoma which affect different age groups:
- Embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma
- Most common in young children, often appears in the head and neck region and especially in tissues around the eye
- Tends to occur in older children and adolescents, occures more often in the arms, legs, chest or abdomen
- Typically occurs in middle-aged people; for unknown reasons it's slightly more common in men than women
Miaa says she is still seeing specialist doctors as she has issues with her vision.
“People stare at me everywhere I go, but I'm ok with it and I try to just smile and say hello, so they treat me like normal people – and maybe realise there are many people who can look different and still be normal.
“But I’ve now finally accepted myself and the scars all over my body, and can tell my story without breaking down.
“It’s cliche to say, but time heals.”
When Miaa was first diagnosed with the cancer she was 28-years-old and healthy.
Doctors told her it was hard to cure and this was a big shock for Miaa.
“Future scans showed a 5cm-sized tumour in my left sinuses, which spread to nearby soft tissues. They weren’t sure if I would survive.
“I had to stop breastfeeding my youngest child, Hilla, and somehow tell my parents, my husband Teemu, and my eldest child, Benjamin.
“From then, life was like an emotional rollercoaster – I tried to be brave because of my family, but still felt like I had been served a death sentence.”
In March 2015 scans showed the tumour had shrunk by over half its size.
However, Miaa lost the ability to taste and smell and her facial bones became weak.
She then spent 12 hours in surgery to remove the tumour and replace her jaw bone and the roof of her mouth.
In December 2015 she was given the all clear.
She now says she wouldn’t have been able to get through it without her husband, her family and her friends.
“Hilla is now six and hasn't seen the ‘old me’ besides from old pictures, and Benjamin is now 12 and knows this is new normal.
“I have since had more surgeries on my face since the first one after other issues but I'm starting to feel ok with myself and scars all over my body.
“Usually I would have just skipped this topic because of all the emotion that comes with it but I now feel I can share it.”
When Miaa first started her journey she said she felt “so lonely”. She is sharing her story to help others who may be in a similar situation to her.
“I have now met so many awesome people via social media who have also had a similar case as mine and it’s nice to share support.
“I spread my story for people who have facial cancer so they can see what it’s like to go through all the treatments and surgeries and how to still survive this horrible situation.
“It would also be great to help other people without cancer to have a little more knowledge of different kinds of lives like mine.”
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