Today Fahland, 72, of Olympia, Wash., regrets having spent her youth basking unprotected in the sun's harmful rays. She is one of 250,000 Americans each year who develop a form of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma. If caught early, squamous cell carcinoma typically doesn't spread, but if neglected or undiscovered for years, it can spread to other parts of the body, causing significant disfigurement and even death.
Fahland's battle with skin cancer began in 1997 with a cancerous lesion above her eye. Her cancer was removed and treated, and Dorothy underwent annual CT scans for the next four years. It was during her July 2001 scan that a tumor was discovered behind her eye. "Unbeknownst to me the cancer had traveled along the optic nerve," Dorothy said. "I was told from the beginning I would lose my eye."
"Most head and neck cancers can easily be removed and treated by a facial plastic surgeon," Mark Wax, M.D., professor of otolaryngology/head and neck surgery in the Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine. "But some skin cancers that have recurred after multiple treatments, or that have grown to great size due to neglect require removal of massive amounts of tissue, leaving the patient with a large defect that is difficult to reconstruct with surrounding tissue."
After being told she would lose her eye, Fahland searched the Internet for a "surgical team that would provide the best chance of survival and the best appearance." Her efforts led her to Wax and his colleague Peter Andersen, M.D., who proposed she undergo skin cancer free tissue transfer.