Note: This article contains graphic content. 

In June 2014, Marisha Dotson noticed a small red spot on her nose. As it grew larger, she brushed it off as a pimple. A second opinion at the health clinic confirmed her self-diagnosis — the spot wasn’t anything to be worried about, just an infection.

However, when Dotson finally went to see a dermatologist, she learned it wasn’t just an infection. Instead, she was diagnosed with an “extremely aggressive” form of skin cancer known as squamous cell carcinoma.

Three years and 30 surgeries later, Dotson is finally cancer-free. But her journey to health was not without its challenges.

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Being “young and skin care conscious” Dotson never expected she’d have skin cancer. But when she scheduled her surgery to have the tumor removed, doctors discovered that the cancer had spread throughout her face. She told the Daily Mail:

“My tumor was like a jellyfish with cancerous tentacles reaching deep into my face. Despite having 300 shots of anaesthetic to my face, it still hurt as they continued to cut and burn each layer, so close to my nerves and sinuses.”

Her first surgery lasted a whopping 15 hours as surgeons removed over half of her nose, as well as cartilage and nasal tissues. Resistant to anesthetic, Dotson was awake the entire time, feeling more than she should have.

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To close the massive gap where her nose was, doctors moved skin from her scalp. She was unrecognizable from her former self. On her GoFundMe page, Dotson wrote how she learned to deal with people’s reactions to her face:

I am still learning how to deal with how people react to my face and its changes. Grieving my lost nose has been harder than it sounds. It wasn’t just a nose. It was cancer and so many other things at the same time.

Dotson endured 14 weeks of intense radiation treatment as well skin graft revision surgery, where doctors had to remove the carcinomas and rebuild her face.

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According to the Daily Mail, the now-28-year-old has also lost part of her jaw, as well as eight teeth. She has to use to a dental implant to eat and speak due to the missing bones in her face.

However, despite her trauma, Dotson merely feels lucky to be alive.

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She and her brother are orphans, with Dotson shouldering adult responsibilities since the age of 16. As a result, from early on in her treatment, she decided she would endure whatever it took to “be around for [her brother].”

Her patience and strength have finally paid off, with doctors clearing Dotson as cancer-free last year.

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Of finding out she was cancer free, she said:

“Before I had gotten so used to bad results that I couldn’t believe it when something good happened. I started crying and have even framed my pathology report.”

Dotson wrote on her GoFundMe page how isolating the past few years have been:

Accepting and dealing with the changes cancer has left is not easy. It is still a work in progress that may never go away. My face is changed forever, and I am no longer the person I was a year ago. I am stronger, but I miss my face and not having to worry about cancer eating at my defenses. I can only hope that I am getting out all of the horrible things young in life so that the rest of my life may be happy. I hope to have a long healthy life in the future!

And while she is still cancer-free and healing wonderfully, Dotson is left with mounds of bills to pay. Though she typically struggles asking for help, she knows it is “necessary” in covering treatments and bills, as the costs “unfortunately do not stop for cancer.”

Dotson plans to spend the remainder of her life raising awareness and paying forward the kindness she has been shown the past few years.

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She said:

“I’ve beaten cancer multiple times and overcome some truly scary odds, some of my friends call me ‘the walking miracle’ and I don’t argue with them because it’s true.”

To donate to Dotson’s campaign, visit her GoFundMe page. You can check out Dotson’s cancer journey through selfies in the video below.

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