Here, Libby, tells the story in her own words.
￼Waves of anxiety washed over me as I timidly shuffled along the school corridor.
With my heart pounding out of my chest, I did my best to keep my head down. As long as I don’t catch anyone’s eye, maybe they won’t notice me, I foolishly thought, as sweat trickled down the back of my neck. I thought I had made it to my next class safely when it started… ‘Hey, lizard breath!’
I was just 15 and the school bullies loved nothing more than to relentlessly taunt me with their cruel twist on my name, Elizabeth. Thanks to the ugly, painful lumps that were clustered all over my arms and neck, they thought I looked like a reptile.
I suffered from an inherited skin condition called neurofibromatosis type 1, which causes non-cancerous tumours to grow along my nerves, producing bumps on my skin.
My mum Mary, now 68, also had it, so when I began developing coffee-coloured patches on my skin, I was sick with worry that people would stare at me the same way they gawped at Mum.
Then when I was in my teens, masses of unsightly lumps began popping up all over my limbs. ‘I can’t believe this is happening to me!’ I wailed to Mum.
After leaving school at 18, I called myself Libby, so I’d no longer be haunted by my hurtful nickname. It wasn’t long before I met the love of my life Michael, who adored me despite my flaws. ‘You’re the most beautiful girl in the world,’ he would say to me, although I never believed him.
We were both elated when I fell pregnant at 21, but sadly my stomach wasn’t the only thing that swelled. The pregnancy hormones had amplified the growth of the tumours.
‘I look like a circus freak!’ I’d cry to Michael as he wiped away my tears.
By the time I gave birth to my daughter, Lindsey, in July 1993, I was covered in hundreds of horrible tumours all over my body. Then they began forming on my face.
‘When will it end? How can I leave the house like this?’ I’d moan to Michael. No matter how much heavy make-up I slathered on my face, people always stared and whispered about me whenever I went out.
Thankfully, by the time she reached her teens, tests showed our daughter hadn’t inherited the condition. While I was over the moon for Lindsey, my own tumours began multiplying like crazy.
Despite being on medication, I was in excruciating pain, especially when I lay down. Even hugging my daughter left me wincing. The pain and stress took a heavy toll on my life, and it wasn’t long before my marriage broke down. Finding a job was impossible, and I became a recluse who was too scared to even leave the house.
Despite 10 rounds of intensive surgery to remove the tumours, they always grew back, and each time I’d be left heartbroken.
By the time I was 40, I was covered in 6000 unsightly lumps and finding a cure seemed to be hopeless. Then, two years ago, I came across a link online to a pioneering treatment called electrodessication. It used an electric current to kill the neurofibroma tissue in the body, meaning the tumours were less likely to grow back than with the ordinary surgery. But it cost a whopping $32,000 – more than I could ever afford.
‘Why don’t you appeal for help online?’ Lindsey, 24, suggested, with hope in her eyes. She helped me set up a Facebook group for other people suffering from this condition, called ‘Faces of Neurofibromatosis’. I was touched when emotional comments and donations started pouring in from strangers all around the world.
Finally, in February 2017, I had my first five-hour session of electrodessication on my face, neck, chest and stomach. ‘I’m scared. What if this doesn’t work?’ I confessed
to Lindsey. ‘Don’t worry, Mum. You’ll be fine. I feel good about this,’ she said with a smile.
Under general anaesthetic, doctors used a needle-shaped electrode to zap the tumours with an electric current, making them dry out and die. Afterwards, the tumours shrivelled up and turned into unsightly scars. Within weeks, the lumps had all fallen off, leaving behind large, smooth patches of skin. ‘It’s a miracle!’ I screamed to Lindsey in delight. I couldn’t stop running my hands over my smooth skin. It was a sensation I hadn’t experienced in a long time.
My heart was overflowing with happiness each time I looked in the mirror and saw how flawless and smooth my skin had become. ‘You’re beautiful,’ I whispered to myself, as tears cascaded down my cheeks. So far, I’ve had two sessions, removing thousands of the tumours.
I know beauty is only skin deep, but the surgeries have given me so much confidence. I’m wearing dresses for the first time in years, and I’m even thinking about dating again. The feeling of being able to go outside without children pointing and people whispering is so liberating. I’ve finally shed my skin and I am happier than ever.
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