It all started out with a few mysterious, heavy nosebleeds. McHaffie decided to get the situation checked out by her general practitioner, who said they were a side effect of bad hay fever and she'd just have to ride them out. Not long after, McHaffie discovered she had a strawberry-size tumor in her nose, which was impacting her breathing. Six months after that, the 25-year-old mother was diagnosed with adenoid cystic carcinoma, which is cancer of the salivary glands.
She told Daily Mail, "I was sat down as surgeons told me they had to remove most of my upper mouth, which would be mainly reconstructed by using the fibula bone in my right leg." All in all, she had to have her upper teeth, palate bone, top right jaw and parts of her cheekbones removed due to how large the tumor had grown. While it was certainly a hard reality to be faced with, McHaffie was willing to do anything to stay alive and continue to take care of her 3-year-old daughter, Leylah.
On May 26, she underwent a 13-hour-long operation, followed by two shorter procedures. She was sedated for three days because the surgeons were having trouble getting proper blood flow to her mouth. Fortunately the problem was rectified, and the surgery was considered a success overall.
She has been in recovery for three weeks now and recently walked for the first time without crutches. Despite the drastic change in her appearance, she remains positive post-surgery. "I've still got to have radiotherapy once my mouth and face have healed, but I know I'll smash that after going through all of this," she proudly told Daily Mail.
Her parents and boyfriend, Chris, have been her touchstone throughout this whole ordeal. Chris was actually diagnosed with testicular cancer just two years prior but is now in remission. McHaffie finds it "crazy" that they both had brushes with such aggressive cancers.
However, McHaffie's cancer is particularly rare. According to John Watkinson, consultant ENT surgeon at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham, "The instance of salivary gland cancer overall is about one per million, and ACC forms about five per cent of these tumors, so most surgeons will only see one or two cases in their lifetime." If you are one of the unlucky few to get it, the surgery usually requires massive reconstruction of the face, especially if the tumor has grown to the size McHaffie's had.
Despite the aggressive surgeries, McHaffie was lucky and seems to be on the road to remission. Her story carries an important lesson, though: If you have an unusual physical development, and one doctor dismisses it, do yourself a favor, and get a second opinion. It just might save your life.
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