Cancer Survivor Embraces the Face that Tells Her Story
- Crystal Marshall, now 23, discovered a tumor in her upper jaw at 18-years-old. She was diagnosed with a facial sarcoma and underwent an operation to remove the tumor from her face.
- Marshall’s surgery changed her appearance dramatically, and for years, she avoided leaving her home unaccompanied.
- After years of hard work, Marshall is learning to embrace her face. She is determined to pursue her dream of acting, and she refuses to let her appearance hold her back.
Now 23, Marshall was just 18-years-old when she first discovered her facial sarcoma when she noticed a tumor in her jaw. Marshall visited her general practitioner and her dentist before going to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England for further testing. “I didn’t know you could even have cancer in your face at that age,” she told The Mirror.Read More
And Marshall was in for another shocking turn of events. When her facial sarcoma was diagnosed, Marshall was told that the tumor would have to be surgically removed. She knew the operation would likely change her appearance, but she wasn’t at all prepared for how extreme that change would be.
“When I woke up from the operation, I didn’t realize how different I’d look. I was completely blindsided,” she said. The operation for facial sarcoma was a success, but the transformation of her appearance led Marshall to isolate herself. For almost three years, she wouldn’t go outside alone.
She was holding on to hope that, after her facial sarcoma surgery, she might be able to have cosmetic surgery to reconstruct her face as it was. “I was just waiting for something to happen,” she said. But her feeling that she needed to hide her face turned Marshall into someone she really didn’t recognize. “There came a time when I was tired of feeling so low and down all the time. I’m not normally that kind of person,” she said.
This episode from the original series SN & You shows breast cancer survivors on their journeys to feel comfortable and beautiful in their own bodies.
It took time, work, and the support of others, but now, Marshall is shedding her fear of judgement. “I got to a point in my life where I didn’t care what people thought about me,” she said. Through journaling about her facial sarcoma and support from Young Lives vs. Cancer, Marshall rebuilt her confidence.
She finally decided to pursue a dream she had put on hold for years—acting. Marshall was accepted into The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, and she was cast in a BBC short film. This positive reinforcement for the facial sarcoma survivor has changed Marshall’s relationship with her appearance. Speaking about starting to go out alone again post-cancer, Marshall said, “I got stares, and they made me feel self-conscious, but the more I did it the more I got used to it and started putting effort into my appearance to feel good.”
Marshall has embraced her experience and her appearance as a strength. She said her acting success “proved that anything is possible and that a person like me, with my experience and background, can still achieve their dreams and inspire others that they can too.” The actress has actually chosen to delay cosmetic surgery and keep the face that tells a part of her story.
Body Positivity and Cancer
Like Crystal Marshall, many cancer survivors struggle with their body image after finishing treatment. This is especially true for women. It is hard to ignore the societal pressures surrounding women and their bodies. Other cancer survivors, like Ann Caruso, have struggled with the same kinds of self-doubt.
Ann Caruso spends her days helping celebrities with the way they look and dress. Her take on body image was rattled after a breast cancer diagnosis.
Caruso had 12 surgeries to treat her breast cancer and told SurvivorNet that all of the change really affected the way she saw her body.
“You’re not the same carefree person that you once were, and it was very hard for me to look at myself every day,” Caruso said in a previous interview with SurvivorNet. “It was like I was a totally different person and didn’t fit into any of my clothes for so long.”
But the celebrity stylist has learned a whole lot about femininity and body image since beating breast cancer. She hopes to impart her knowledge upon others dealing with similar struggles.
“Femininity is a state of mind,” Caruso said. “And I think that’s something that we have to remind ourselves.”
Contributing: Abigail Seaberg