A woman who lost her entire nose due to skin cancer was able to have doctors reconstruct a new one for her.
In 2016, Sabrina Falcon, 56, of Las Vegas, Nevada, was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma and underwent two surgeries to remove the cancer.
Months later, after she began experiencing severe headaches, she learned all the diseased cells had not been removed and they had spread across her nose.
The whole nose had to be removed. In the past, her only option would have been using a prosthesis, through which to breathe, for the rest of her life.
However, surgeons at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona told her that, by using regenerative medicine, they could take part of her scalp to build a new nose for her.
Falcon says her new nose functions just like the one she was born with and she is able to smell, sneeze and even generate mucus just like anybody else.
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Sabrina Falcon, 56, of Las Vegas, Nevada, had a new nose constructed for her after losing the entire organ to skin cancer. Pictured: Falcon after the reconstructive surgery
Falcon was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma, a skin cancer that occurs in a type of cell that produce new skin as old cells die, in 2016. She had two surgeries to remove the cancer from her nose but, months later, began experiencing severe headaches and facial pain. Pictured, left and right: Falcon undergoing reconstructive surgery
Falcon, who grew up in Southern California, told DailyMail.com that she describes herself as a ‘sun baby.’
‘You know, when I was young, I did not wear sunscreen,’ she said.
‘Back in my days, I was born in the 60s, they were all about baby oil…It wasn’t until I got older that I started wearing a lot of sunscreen, mostly on my face.
‘I definitely was out all the time, hiking, beach, primarily with no sunscreen on.’
In 2016, while based in Chicago as a flight attendant for Southwest Airlines, Falcon had a regular doctor’s appointment, in which the physician noticed that the end of her nose was unusually squishy.
After examining the nose and running some tests, she was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma (BCC), a form of skin cancer that occurs in the basal cell, a type of cell that produce new skin cells as old cells die.
It most often begins on the head or neck and appears as a translucent, light pink or red bump on the skin.
BCC is incredibly localized and almost almost never spreads compared to melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.
Australian actor Hugh Jackman has had at least six procedures to remove BCC from his nose after first being diagnosed in 2013.
More than four million cases of basal cell carcinoma are diagnosed each year in the US, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
It is the most frequently occurring form of all cancers, but only causes about 2,000 US deaths every year.
However, the American Cancer Society estimates that more than 6,800 will die of melanoma in 2020.
Falcon underwent two surgeries to remove the cancer from her nose but, months later, she began suffering from debilitating headaches and facial pain.
‘I went to different doctors and they said: “Nothing’s wrong. You had a basal cell. It’s going to be sore. Whatever,”‘ she said.
Los Angeles was not a base yet for Southwest, so Falcon transferred to Las Vegas where she visited even more doctors to no avail.
‘All I kept hearing was: “Nothing’s wrong. You need to go home and smoke marijuana.” All kinds of bizarre things,’ she said.
She visited several doctors, none of whom had answers for why she had debilitating headaches, until she went to the Mayo Clinic. Pictured: Falcon before being diagnosed with skin cancer
Doctors at the Mayo Clinic told Falcon her previous surgeries had not removed all the cancer and it had spread throughout her nose. Pictured: An animated graphic showing the portion of Falcon’s nose that needed to be rebuilt
During this time, Falcon said she started seeing spots and her headaches had enhanced so she went to see an eye doctor for a different issue, but brought up her head pain.
She said she was thinking about visiting the Mayo Clinic, and he agreed.
Her appointment in May 2019 at the Mayo Clinic’s Arizona campus in Phoenix finally revealed what was wrong.
Falcon’s previous surgeries had not removed all of the cancer and the basal cell tumor had metastasized, spreading across her entire nose.
‘Honestly, I was extremely ecstatic because I knew something was wrong and it was really interrupting my life and daily activities,’ she said.
‘So I was really happy and glad I could move forward.’
On May 15, Falcon underwent Mohs surgery, a procedure in which layers of cancerous skin are removed until there is only uninfected tissue.
According to Dr Shari Ochoa, a dermatologist at the Mayo Clinic, the surgery had to be done in four stages because the tumor covered the entire nose.
‘The cancer had extended from one side of her nose to the other, from the nasal bone to the bridge of the nose,’ she said.
Surgeons removed the diseased part of Falcon’s nose and then began a process for reconstructing the organ. Pictured: Surgeons operating on Falcon
Doctors used skin from her scalp and forehead and cartilage from her ear to build a new nose. The process took five surgeries last from May 2019 to October 2019. Pictured, left to right: Falcon undergoing reconstructive surgery
Falcon said she had had a cone bandage placed over where her nose would be so she assumed she still had a nose.
The next day, Falcon met with Dr Brittany Howard, an otolaryngologist and facial reconstruction surgeon at the Mayo Clinic, who explained what the reconstruction would look like.
‘She said: “We’re going to take [the bandages] off and I’m going to give you a mirror and you need to realize this is temporary but I’m going to be with you through this entire journey but you need to be with me too,”‘ she said.
Falcon (pictured) said she views the experience as positive and hopes her story inspires others in her situation to seek reconstructive surgery as well
Falcon said she had her bandages taken off and her sister started crying at the sight.
‘But I looked in the mirror and surprisingly I just said: “Okay.” And there’s a big hole in your head and you’re just going: “Oh…right.” So I said: “I’m in,”‘ the flight attendant said.
Howard told DailyMail.com that Falcon underwent five surgeries – with four weeks in between each procedure – to reconstruct the nose using skin from the scalp and forehead.
‘We take skin from the forehead, bring it down like an elephant trunk, and fold it inside the nose so that that skin extends all the way inside the nose to make the new interior lining and outside,’ she said.
Next, Howard took cartilage from Falcon’s ear to build a new skeleton and then used diced donor cartilage mixed with tissue glue to shape the nose that would fit Falcon’s face.
‘Over those staged surgeries, we put a skeleton inside of it, we separate the inside from the outside and then shape the outside.’
Howard also placed an expander inside Falcon’s to stretch her scalp so that it could regenerate skin and restore her natural hairline, and then removed the expander with the new skin in place.
Falcon said her new nose functions very well, she can breathe normally and she hopes other people can be inspired by her story that there is hope for others in her situation.
‘It’s amazing what they can do, it’s amazing that I’m still here and I just want to help others,’ she said.
‘I’ve seen a lot of beauty in this and I took this experience and made it the best I could.’