Doctors thought I had a sinus infection – it was ultra-rare cancer

She ended up losing her eye.


Annika, a 28-year-old woman from California, shared her harrowing experience of losing her eye after doctors fought to save her life following a devastating cancer diagnosis.

Namely, this woman was shocked to learn she had a rare form of cancer, one that affects fewer than one in a million people. Unfortunately, this sinus cancer led to the removal of her right eye.

Initially, the ‘golf ball-sized tumor’ that spread all over her face, was mistaken for a sinus infection.

She first felt discomfort in the inner corner of her right eye one morning in 2023. Throughout the day, the excruciating pain only intensified, leading to significant swelling around her eye.

Fearing for her health, she turned to medical professionals for help. Once at the hospital, doctors did a CT scan and determined the pain Annika felt was a result of inflammation associated with sinus issues, likely an infection.

In the TikTok video she shared, Annika recalled the day she first experienced pain and said, “My face started to really, really hurt on the right side.”

Doctors prescribed Annika with some medicine for treating sinus infection and she felt a bit better for a week, but then the pain returned with even greater intensity. The swelling appeared again and it wasn’t until her second visit to the emergency room that doctors spotted the tumor next to her eye which wasn’t there three weeks before.

Annika was diagnosed with stage four sinonasal carcinoma SMARCB1, which had spread to her face, lungs, and lymph nodes. At the time, she was 27.

The forms of cancer that affect the sinuses are rare but extremely aggressive. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), this particular cancer constitutes only one percent of all head and neck cancers, with fewer than 200 reported cases in the medical literature. Symptoms include nasal obstructions, headaches, protrusion of the eyeball, and nosebleeds. 

Annika stared chemo treatments almost immediately. When doctors saw a little improvement after nine weeks of therapy, she had undergone a surgery.

“They also had to take surrounding tissue, which included my right eye,” she explained in one of her TikTok video. 

“So what you see now is essentially a piece of my thigh kind of filling that gap.

“I have been told that it will kind of go down, but it’s also a different color because my thigh was a lot tanner.”

At the time being, this brave woman is on experimental treatment plan that includes chemotherapy and immunotherapy to slow the spread of the cancer.

Speaking of her disease and the prognosis, Annika said, “I know it’s not great.

“I know when you read about my cancer it’s “rare, aggressive, poor prognosis,” but no doctor has sat me down and been like “This is how long you have to live.'”

Annika remains hopeful, and we pray she finds the strength to battle the awful disease and end up a winner.

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