Real Life

REAL LIFE: I lost half my face to cancer, but it didn't stop me from living my dreams

All I saw was the gaping hole where my eye used to be, but having Josh by my side made me realise I was simply lucky to be alive.

By Laura Masia

Joanne Coleman, 22, Logan Village, Qld, shares her true life story;

Wiping the mud from my face, I looked at my mate Josh and smiled.
"Can't wait to change into some fresh clothes," I said, laughing.
Our town had recently flooded and we'd been helping all those who'd got stuck by guiding them out on horseback.
After we'd taken some people to safety, Josh stopped suddenly in the mud.
Before I knew it, his lips were pressed against mine.
We were both covered head to toe in grime, but our first kiss couldn't have been more perfect.
I had first met Josh when we were both 13 and at high school.
But we didn't really get to know each other until we'd graduated and started to cross paths more often.
Once we began hanging out together, I couldn't deny my feelings for him.
He wasn't a talker, but he was an absolute sweetheart.
Now we were officially a couple, I was on cloud-nine.
Life with Josh was perfect.
We loved driving around listening to country music together or relaxing in nature.
Me before all my surgeries.
One day, a year into our relationship, I woke to a sharp pain near my wisdom tooth.
My mum, Helen, could tell I was in agony and took me straight to hospital where I underwent tests.
The doctor called me back for the results a week later.
"I'm coming with you," Josh insisted.
When I walked in and saw the doc's face, I knew it was bad news.
"I'm sorry," he began, "you have an aggressive cancer in your right sinus."
Josh put his head in his hands, while Mum's eyes searched my face for a reaction.
Knowing I'd break down completely if I looked at them any longer, I stared at the floor.
I was only 20 – how could this be happening to me?
The doctor explained that my only option was to remove the cancer, which was the size of a kiwi fruit.
But to prevent it from spreading, they'd also need to take out my right eye and half of my mouth.
Plastic surgeons would then use bone and muscle from my hip to rebuild my mouth and cheek.
The news was too much for me to take in, but one thought raced through my mind.
What would Josh think of the new me?
In hospital after my first operation.
As if he could read my mind, Josh pulled me in for a hug when we were back home.
"No matter what happens, I love you," he whispered. "You'll always be beautiful to me."
His words made going into the operating theatre much easier.
When I woke 23 hours later, I was told the procedure was a success, but two weeks later everything went wrong.
Both the skin flap and bone implant had failed, and doctors needed to perform more surgeries to remove the old flesh before I started radiation and chemo.
Looking in the mirror was a shock.
All I saw was the gaping hole where my eye used to be.
But having Josh by my side, made me realise I was simply lucky to be alive.
After one month in hospital, I was allowed back home with Mum.
Without my eye, I couldn't drive and had to quit my job in a factory.
At first, I thought I'd be lonely but with Mum and my family around, I always had company.
And Josh visited every day after work.
One afternoon, instead of stopping by for tea, Josh ushered me into the car.
"Come on," he said with a smile. "It'll be fun!"
I jumped in and held his hand as we drove up Tambourine Mountain.
On my hens night with my beloved dog Skye. I just wanted to live my life.
After a while, we stopped to admire the lush valley below.
I noticed Josh was behind me.
Turning around, I gasped at the sight of him down on one knee. "Will you marry me?" he asked.
I nodded frantically as tears welled up inside me.
"Is that a yes?" he grinned. "I need to hear you say it."
"Yes," I croaked, jumping into his arms.
This amazing man really did love me, despite what I'd been through.
We started planning a wedding for the following year along with looking for a house to buy.
With so much to look forward to, I almost forgot about losing an eye.
But two months later, I was washing my face when I found a lump next to my hairline.
I mentioned it to Mum.
"It's probably nothing, but let's get it checked out just in case," she said.
Tests confirmed my worst fears.
My cancer was back, and this time it was inoperable.
"You have only one year to live," the doctor said gently.
With trembling hands, I sent Josh a text: We can't buy a house.
He instantly knew what that meant.
Back at my place, he rushed to be by my side.
Marrying Josh was a dream come true.
I watched him hold back tears as I sobbed into his shoulder.
"I… I won't be around for the wedding," I stammered.
My heart broke.
All I wanted was to marry the man of my dreams but there was no way we could afford a wedding without saving.
We were both distraught, but Mum leapt into action: "You will have this wedding," she said sternly.
She contacted My Wedding Wish, a national charity that works with wedding suppliers to give the terminally ill their special day.
They agreed to help out and we set a date for three months' time in a paddock on our property.
When the big day arrived, I felt like I was dreaming.
Slipping into the white dress, I looked at Mum and cried.
"I've got a surprise for you," she said.
A horse was waiting to take me to another surprise.
With my bridesmaids and our chopper!
Trotting along, the whirring sound of blades became louder and louder.
My family hired a helicopter to take me to my wedding.
Talk about making a grand entrance!
I walked down the isle, surrounded by fairy lights and loved ones, straight into Josh's arms.
I felt like I was in a movie.
We vowed to love each other through thick and thin, and we had our first dance to our favourite song; I Love You 
This Big by Scotty McCreery.
Since then, the cancer has spread and I'm back in hospital.
Josh and I are taking things one day at a time, but no matter how long I have left, Josh will be my soulmate forever.

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