Waking up with a pimple is one of life’s inevitable beauty hurdles — but conceal and carry on, right? Like most of us, that’s what Marisha Dotson, a then-25 year old Tennessee woman, assumed when she woke up one morning with what appeared to be a pimple smack dab in the center of her nose. Over the next few days, the spot didn’t subside. Instead, it swelled and began to ache. Dotson inquired with her doctor, who had assured her she was just experiencing a strange form of acne or an unusual infection.
Nevertheless, the blemish persisted. “To me it looked like a regular pimple…slightly reddish,” Dotson recalls to Caters News Agency. When she began to feel feverish, Dotson “knew it wasn’t just a spot.” Worried, she consulted her dermatologist, who diagnosed the seemingly innocent “pimple” as squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), an extremely serious and rapid form of skin cancer.
Needless to say, Dotson was devastated. She had no choice but to undergo surgery, which lasted a total of 15 hours due to unforeseen, additional layers of cancer. As a result, the doctors were forced to remove the majority of Dotson’s nose.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, at least 1 million cases of squamous cell carcinoma are diagnosed in the U.S. annually, making it the second-most common form of skin cancer. If left untreated, SCC can lead to disfigurement and/or death. The cancer is caused primarily by cumulative damage from ultraviolet radiation via the sun.
And while we’ve been lectured time and time again on staying out of the sun and slathering on SPF — at least SPF 30, per the American Academy of Dermatology (and Allure editors) — let this be another reminder: Any form of UV exposure can damage your skin and increase your cancer risk.
Post-surgery, doctors fashioned a prosthetic nose using ear cartilage and skin from the crown of Dotson’s head. Slowly but surely, she began to heal. Sadly, it wasn’t long before she was struck with another bout of devastating news: The doctors had discovered additional cancerous spots on the 25-year-old’s cheek, lip, and various parts of her nose.
Dotson endured another painstaking surgery; this time, requiring removal of part of her jaw. Post-op, she needed numerous skin grafts and a prosthetic mouthpiece to replace what had been cut from her face, just so she could eat and smile.
Three years since the inciting “pimple,” Dotson is finally cancer-free. She is currently studying to become a counselor and says she has “given up on the cosmetic side of things” and “just feels so lucky to be alive.” We admire Dotson’s bravery and hope her story will encourage others to take care of their skin and seek help when abnormalities arise.
While we’re not suggesting you freak out every time you develop a spot, we are advocating for constant sun protection — every day of the year — and regular skin checks. “Being naked for the doctor for 10 minutes can safe your life,” Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, previously told Allure. “If a skin cancer is detected early enough, it can be cured.”
Also, never dismiss sudden skin abnormalities, especially unexplained lesions or scabs. While they’re usually benign, only a dermatologist can give you the thumbs up — and nothing feels better than peace of mind.
More information on skin cancer:
- This Woman’s Colorist Helped Her Spot Melanoma on Her Scalp
- Khloe Kardashian Just Shared Her Skin Cancer Experiences in an Unexpected Way
- The 9 Most Common Sunscreen Mistakes
Now, learn all about the history of sunscreen: