My name is Mark, and I am 58 years old. In 2007, I was diagnosed with a head and neck cancer. This was treated with radiotherapy and surgery to remove the tumour. I lived with reoccurrences of the cancer and further surgeries without it affecting my day-to-day life too much.
But by December 2018, my nose had started to collapse. The cancer had spread to the roof of my mouth, and towards my eyes, and the pain was becoming difficult to manage.
It was decided the best action was further surgery to take out as much of the cancer as possible, which unfortunately meant that they had to remove my nose too. Since then, I have had a further four operations and a total of two skin grafts, which has left me with a visible difference.
I wear a splint taped to my face. This allows me to wear glasses, but it also covers up the skin graft. I have tried a stick-on prosthesis but had various issues with that. I tape my left eye down due to bad double vision. I have looked at different options to sort my vision out but with no solution to date.
The effects of the operation have been both practical and emotional. My limited eyesight has stopped me from riding my motorbike and playing golf which were both important pastimes. It has also affected my self-confidence and, subsequently, my social life.
It has taken a while for me to realise that these changes are permanent and that I need to face the situation. For that reason, I decided to contact Changing Faces to find out what support was available.
I read about the Peer Group Chat service, and I felt that the opportunity to talk to other people with a visible difference could be helpful. It’s an eight-week programme and I was hopeful that the experience would help me accept my visible difference, and that it would be a step towards building the confidence to do things I had done previously.
The chat room experience was a completely new one for me. I struggled initially with the multitasking required to read, think and type all at the same time, and being the only male in the group was challenging at first.
Eventually, this all became easier, and I enjoyed my interactions with the group – which was comprised of people of varying ages and visible differences.
I don’t know if I was just lucky, but they were a fantastic bunch. All opinions counted. It felt like a safe space where you could be honest about your own situation and concerns. It was humbling and inspiring to learn what other members had coped with.
Each week there were invaluable nuggets of wisdom shared and, even though we’d all encountered hardships, we still managed to find moments of humour and laughter.
I feel my involvement has put my situation into perspective. I have learned the importance of self-confidence and that building that is a priority. I also realised that life has changed for me. I should not be looking back at what I used to be able to do but looking forward and finding out what I can achieve and enjoy now.
I also think it is important not to be too hard on myself. I try not to feel guilty about covering my face. If that works for me at the moment, then I am happy with that.
Since completing the peer group sessions, I have been making an effort to deal with my situation with a positive approach, taking strength from the way in which other people cope and continue to move forward.
Overall, despite thinking that the chat process was frustrating at first, it was very well managed by Tiffany and Sam from the Changing Faces team. It was a hugely worthwhile experience and one I would highly recommend, even to fellow Luddites!
The Peer Group Chat service is an eight-week programme which is available in three different formats: by live webchat, phone or by Zoom video-conferencing.