‘Bullies constantly tormented me’: Mother, 56, with a facial deformity finally learns to love herself after being left suicidal as a child following years of cruel abuse
- Christine Mae Brown, 56, from New Zealand has neurofibromatosis Type 1
- Bullies at school beat her with sticks and even through faeces at her
- Mrs Brown has had 20 surgeries on the deformities that ‘invaded her face’
A mother-of-three who has been tormented since she was a child has learnt to accept her facial deformities that once left her suicidal.
Christine Mae Brown, 56, was treated so cruelly by schoolchildren that at 13 years old she ‘wanted to die’.
Mrs Brown, from Invercargill, New Zealand, had sticks thrown at her and was told she ‘ruined photos’ by bullies that were scared of catching the genetic condition that ‘invaded her face’.
Mrs Brown, a volunteer co-ordinator, was diagnosed with neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1) after noticeable spots began to appear on her face when she was five years old.
Now married with three children, one of which has NF1, she has learnt to live with her condition, after having 20 surgeries including to debulk the growths, a face lift and facial reconstruction surgery.
NF1 is a common genetic condition that affects one in 3,000 people in the UK to some extent. It is incurable.
Christine Mae Brown, 56, from New Zealand has neurofibromatosis type 1 for which she has had 20 surgeries for. The genetic condition affects one in 3,000 people in the UK.
Bullies who feared ‘catching’ the condition threw sticks, stones, and faeces at Mrs Brown, as well as calling her names such as ‘rock muncher’ (pictured as a teenager)
Mrs Brown, a volunteer co-ordinator, says the strength from her upbringing and her family have taught her to accept herself. (pictured, her husband of 26 years Lee, daughter Farrin (now 18) and Cohen (now 25), who also has NF1
NF1 is caused by a faulty gene, which can result to tumours developing in the nervous systems.
While the tumours are of the non-cancerous kind, they may cause a range of symptoms such as; pale, coffee-coloured patches, clusters of freckles in uncommon places like the armpits, groin and under the breast, and problems with the bones, eyes and the nervous system.
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Mrs Brown said: ‘Tumours appeared and my face and grew, dragging down the right side of my face, eye and ear and the tumours started to appear on my body.
‘I didn’t know or understand the full impact of bullying until I got to school. From the age of five I was bullied right through school and it continued even after that.
‘I was called names like; fat face, rock muncher, rocky, freak, ugly. I was beaten with sticks and stones were thrown at me.
‘I was pushed, kicked, pinched, had poo thrown at me and I was also locked in a cupboard at school by kids and vomited on.’
She added: ‘I managed to turn myself off when looking in a mirror, it’s actually quite hard to explain.
‘I wanted to fit in, I wanted my kids to fit in, but society didn’t understand. They never asked or were afraid to talk to me in case they “caught” what I had.’
Mrs Brown had her first operation at the age of seven.
Mrs Brown, pictured with her two brothers, Tony (left) and Alan (right), was diagnosed with NF1 when she was five years old when noticeable spots, and then tumours, appeared on her face
Children were scared of catching Mrs Brown’s condition, which is genetic, throughout her whole school life. (Pictured second row on far right)
She said: ‘Until this day, I can hear the cries of children as they were lowered into salt baths to soak of bandages while I was in the children’s ward.’
‘I have always accepted what I could not physically change, however, it was society that made my life difficult through bullying to a point that at the age of thirteen I had enough and wanted to die.’
The torment followed Mrs Brown even into adulthood, when she married her partner of 33 years, Lee, in 1992 and had her three children, Janina, 31, Cohen 25, and Farrin, 18.
She said: ‘It also affected my children who received a lot of name-calling because of the way I looked.
‘My youngest child was even told to go and kill herself. I would avoid photos after being told many times that I ruined photos.’
Mrs Brown’s believes her condition came from her grandmother on her mother’s side and it was passed on to Mrs Brown and her brother, who died of pneumonia and kidney failure when he was 23 years old.
At 13 years old, Mrs Brown ‘wanted to die’ following the cruel torments from bullies (pictured at age 13)
Mrs Brown has endured 20 surgeries including face lifts and facial reconstruction (pictured in hospital during an operation)
Mrs Brown married in 1992 to her husband Lee. ‘We were prepared to face whatever came our way,’ she said, speaking of having children who would potentially have NF1
‘We are not really sure where NF in our family came from it can be traced only as far back as my grandmother on my mother’s side.
‘My mother and her sister both had NF1. This was passed onto me and my younger brother who died at twenty-three.’
Mrs Brown’s son, Cohen, has inherited the condition.
‘I knew when we chose to have children that it was possible that we could pass on the gene’, said Mrs Brown.
‘But we were prepared to face whatever came our way and my son who is now 25 does not hold this against me.’
Through the love of her family and sheer strength, Mrs Brown, who has had bone restructuring on her face, has decided to embrace her condition to teach her children how to accept themselves.
‘I can forgive but I cannot forget although I have healed from that by talking openly about the effects of NF and bullying.
‘I love myself for who I am and how I have grown up – to help others and advocate against bullying.
Mrs Brown, who has done a number of anti-bullying talks in New Zealand, took comfort in reading as a child.
She said: ‘I never fought back physically or verbally… As a child I turned to reading and Enid Blyton books, which became my saviour – I could take myself away to a world of make-believe and fantasy.
‘You could become a fairy or an elf and, in her books, bullies always made friends with the kids they picked on. As I got older, I continued to ignore it the best I could.
‘Telling someone would only make things worse and the friends I had were good but were only kids too. I was lucky enough to grow up in a cul-de-sac street and it was my safe area as was my home.’
Mrs Brown has embraced her condition to teach her children, who were also bullied because of her condition, how to love themselves. Pictured with her husband (left) and daughter (right)
Mrs Brown has grown to focus on the positives in life, such as the grandchildren she now has.
She said: ‘My family love me for who I am and always have done, I have brought them up to accept people for themselves as beauty comes from within.
‘I only have a few friends but not close. However, I now receive positive comments on how good I look.
‘Remember we are not ‘NF’, we are a person with feelings. See the person first – you cannot catch it from us – understanding and asking is a big thing.
‘People should not stare although we know it’s hard, but we are not alone; many others have NF and other health issues and conditions.’
Mrs Brown added: ‘We don’t have the right to judge a person on how they look in any way – think before you speak as words cut deep to our very souls.
‘Be open – yes I know it is hard to open up, but sharing is the only way we can make people understand.
‘I know it is hard to ignore the stares and the words which are negative, but you are you and a person with a heart and feelings. Stand strong and be a voice.’
Cohen has recently been approved medical cannabis to help with the pain he gets from NF1.
However, it is not funded by the government and the family are trying to raise money with a fundraising page.
WHAT IS NEUROFIBROMATOSIS?
Neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1) is a common genetic condition that affects one in 3,000 people in the UK to some extent.
It’s caused by a genetic mutation that affects nerve tissue growth.
Around half of cases are inherited from a parent and the other half occur spontaneously.
Early symptoms include flat brown birthmarks, and lumps and bumps in unusual places.
It is also associated with mild learning difficulties, although most people with NF1 are otherwise healthy and live to a normal life expectancy.
There is no cure, however, surgery can be performed to remove the benign growths.
Source: The Neuro Foundation
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