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06 Oct 2022

Gran whose “bogey” was cancer fears she will “look like Freddy Krueger” after life-saving surgery to remove her face and give her a prosthetic

Gran whose “bogey” was cancer fears she will “look like Freddy Krueger” after life-saving surgery to remove her face and give her a prosthetic

A grandmother whose “bogey” was an aggressive form of skin cancer is terrified that life-saving surgery to “remove” her face and replace it with a prosthetic will leave her “looking like Freddy Krueger”.

When mum of three Sheila Chadwick, 64, first felt something in her right nostril in January 2021 and could not wipe it away, she was not worried as her GP thought it was simply a wart – only for her life to be turned upside down by a cancer diagnosis six months later.

When the “wart” spread to cover her entire nose, she had two major operations and 40 gruelling rounds of radiotherapy, only for the cancer to persist meaning she needs surgery later this month to remove her nose, top lip and part of her top gum in a bid to survive.

Grandmother-of-four Sheila, a former supermarket worker, who lives in Bradford, West Yorkshire, with former warehouse worker David Chadwick, 64, her husband-of-34-years, said: “As difficult as this time is for us, he has always been there for me.

“I’ve had a hellish year, and I’m worried about the future. I don’t know if I will be able to cope without a face.

“Our lives will change forever, but I’m so grateful to have David by my side, where he has been for 34 years.

“We are both determined to live for each other and for our children and grandchildren.”

Sheila’s fortitude is both admirable and a necessity, as in addition to the devastating disease, surgery to remove the cancer in her nose and upper lip has been disfiguring.

No longer the fresh-faced young woman with clear skin and jet black hair she was when she and David met, Sheila describes her appearance now as “horrifying” and says her grandson Tyler, nine, is too scared to look at her.

She said: “Doctors say they can provide me with a prosthetic jelly face to stick on. I am terrified I will look like Freddy Krueger.”

She added: “My grandson won’t look at me. It’s devastating. He will only give me a cuddle with his head down.”

Sheila first noticed something uncomfortable in her right nostril in January 2021, at first thinking it was a “bogey,” but when it  would not go she saw her GP, who believed it was a wart.

She said: “I thought it was just a bogey,  but when it wouldn’t go I saw my GP a few times and they reassured me that it was just a wart and I had nothing to worry about.”

She added: “It just looked like a little bogey at the time. I tried to pick it.”

But by July, medics at Bradford Royal Infirmary grew concerned, as it had spread to the outside of her nostril and was covering her entire nose.

Fearing it was something more sinister, a subsequent biopsy confirmed their worst fears that it was squamous cell carcinoma, the second most common form of skin cancer.

While it is usually easily treated, if allowed to grow, the lesions can become disfiguring, dangerous and even deadly, according to The Skin Cancer Foundation.

Fearing that a diagnosis in 2017 of COPD, or mild chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a lung condition, meant she would not survive surgery, doctors instead gave her radiotherapy and she was forced to wear a “terrifying-looking” mask, as protection from the harmful rays.

She said: “It was pretty shocking. I couldn’t believe what I looked like.”

She added: “The therapy was difficult, but I tried to stay positive. Thankfully, it wasn’t painful.”

After 20 rounds of radiotherapy, she assumed the cancer had gone and focused on her rehabilitation and recovery.

Four weeks later, around September, she found two lumps on the right side of her neck and a biopsy revealed the cancer had spread.

Sheila said: “I was completely swollen, red and blotchy after radiotherapy.

“Then it got really scabby and it was weeping. It was awful, but I assumed the cancer had gone.”

Forced to endure another 20 punishing rounds of radiotherapy in October 2021, to save her life, she simply hoped for the best.

But, by November, another growth appeared in her left nostril and she was told radiotherapy would no longer be effective, making surgery her only option.

Forced to choose between “dying on the operating table, or “dying of cancer,” Sheila went under the knife.

She said: “Going back made me furious. I felt like life was just being so unfair.”

She added: “Even though surgery was dangerous, it was now the only option.

“If I didn’t do it, I would have died anyway. It was either dying of cancer or dying on the operating table.”

After seven hours of surgery in November removed part of her upper lip and nose, while skin from her cheeks was used to rebuild part of her cleft palate, the recovery was tough.

Her nose overflowed with a constant stream of pus, but still, courageous Sheila felt “grateful to be alive and cancer-free.”

She said: “I didn’t have time to think about everything I was going through. I blocked it out. I had to try something.

“I couldn’t just give up. While there are still options available, I will take them.”

She added: “I need to do it for my husband, my children and grandchildren.

“Even though my family were shocked when they looked at me, I was grateful to be alive and cancer-free.”

Sheila had reconstructive surgery in January, where medics also removed the lumps in her neck. But just days later her nose started to overflow with pus and the corner of her nose disconnected and became “flappy.”

She said: “They cut my neck from ear to ear, took two lumps out which were in the glands of my neck and stitched it all together.

“I had to go through the trauma all over again.”

Following surgery, skin from her lips as well as the lumps from her neck were sent for a biopsy, which sadly showed the cancer was still present.

Poor Sheila had finally been feeling positive for the first time since her diagnosis, only for it to all come crashing down again.

She said: “It was so frustrating, I feel so tired and exhausted.”

Devastated, but determined to live, Sheila will be having further surgery later this month to remove her nose, her top lip and part of her top gum – effectively leaving her without a face.

Due to the extensive nature of the surgery,  she will have a feeding tube and will never be able to eat or drink again on her own.

Despite her customary bravery, Sheila – who will be given a “prosthetic face” to wear to mask her inevitable disfigurement – now fears she may not cope “without a face.”

And she is scared the prosthetic will make her look like Nightmare on Elm Street monster Freddy Krueger.

She said: “I will never be able to eat again, or drink. I will need a feeding tube. But I think at least I’ll be able to eat an ice lolly.

“I never expected to be here today, but I’m scared I won’t be able to cope.

“I don’t know if I want to see my grandchildren like this, as I don’t want to scare them.”

Yet, despite her understandable fears, Sheila says the love of her family still helps her to find the strength to carry on.

She said: “My family is everything, I want to be able to hug them. I want to make memories with them. I would have given up a long time ago without them.”

Now Sheila’s daughter Mel Irish, 34, an assistant warehouse manager, is raising money to buy her mum a special walk-in bath, to make her life more comfortable.

Recalling how Sheila held down three jobs to help pay for everything for her, her brother, lorry driver Craig Chadwick, now 40, and sister, admin worker Claire Chadwick, now 37, when they were children, she is now determined to help the “most important person in the world” at her most difficult time.

Mel, who lives in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, with her husband Richard Irish, 35, an HGV mechanic and two children Ellie, six, and Chloe, three, said: “I’m going to lose my mum at some point, but if I can make the time she’s got left more comfortable I will do whatever I need to do.

“She’s my mum, you can’t put words to how important she is. She’s everything. She’s given me everything I ever wanted.”

She added: “Seeing her go through something so devastating after all she’s sacrificed has broken me. I wish I could help her.

“I wish I could take some pain away.”

As for David, it is heartbreaking watching the woman he loves so entirely endure such a cruel, painful and disfiguring condition.

He said: “We are all heartbroken to see Sheila go through such a horrible and aggressive form of cancer.

“It’s not only disfiguring, but to have to smell the cancer eating away at her face is terrible.

“It’s been a very difficult time watching my wife of 34 years going through what she is going through and not being able to help her.

“It’s been hard and emotional, but we will get through it together.”

* You can donate to the family here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/the-lady-i-call-my-mum

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