A girl from Co Durham had a habit of biting her nails, which so out of hand, she had to have her thumb amputated.
20-year-old Courtney Whithorn, who moved to Australia nine years ago, started biting her nails as a result of being bullied in school.
The nervous habit lead to the then-teen actually biting her thumb nail off in 2014.
According to the Metro, Courtney’s thumb turned black as a result, but despite panicking at the sight of it, she was so embarrassed, she kept the injured finger hidden from her family and friends for four years, hiding it in her fist and under fake nails.
Courtney explained her situation, saying:
I’ve been a nail biter my whole life, but in 2014 I was in year 11 in high school and I was chronically bullied.
Rumours were started about me and if I sat with people at lunch they would completely ignore me like I didn’t exist. Nail biting became a coping mechanism for me.
I didn’t even realise I’d bitten my whole thumb nail off until I saw how much blood was on my hand. I can’t even explain how self-conscious I was. When the nail grew out it was like paper.
She went to see a doctor for cosmetic reasons, who referred her to a plastic surgeon. The surgeon suggested removing the nail bed to get rid of the parts which had turned black.
Before her surgery however, the doctor noticed something was wrong, and did a biopsy on Courtney’s thumb.
The trauma caused to the young woman’s nails resulted in the development of a rare type of skin cancer, acral lentiginous subungual melanoma (ALM).
Courtney was diagnosed in July, and was understandably extremely shocked at the news.
After learning she had cancer, she said:
I was told that it was a malignant melanoma which was very rare to have there, especially for someone my age and at that size.
I was obviously very shocked I couldn’t believe it at all. My mum just burst into tears. When I found out that biting my nail off was the cause of the cancer it shattered me.
In my head I thought ‘I’ve done this to myself’ but obviously I knew I shouldn’t have that mentality. I couldn’t believe it.
Since her diagnosis, Courtney has had four surgeries in attempts to get rid of the cancer.
After her second surgery, which removed her nail bed, a 3D image of the inside of her thumb revealed there were no more cancerous cells.
However, just a week later, specialists in Sydney told Courtney the protocol to deal with her form of melanoma was amputation.
The surgeon performed a third surgery where they created a wider incision to remove any more malignant cells, but the operation only confirmed they need to amputate the thumb.
Courtney spoke about her reaction at learning the news, saying:
The plastic surgeon text me saying protocol for this melanoma, because it’s so rare, is amputation.
I had a panic attack at work, I read the word ‘amputation’ and ran outside – I couldn’t breathe.
My mum had to come to my work, my boss was tying my hair up and wafting my shirt. I freaked out – we’d never even spoken about amputation.
Because it had started to travel, the only option left was amputation but this time I was much more prepared for that news.
I wasn’t scared going in for the amputation surgery – I was more nervous as I’m not a big fan of needles and stuff.
Her last surgery, which took place last week, amputated the thumb from above the knuckle.
The 20-year-old continued:
When you think about it how many kids bite their nails? It’s crazy it came to that.
Courtney is still waiting for the results of her surgery, and will have regular scans to keep tabs on the situation.
She explained how there’s not enough research about the cancer to say what the survival rate is, or what the likelihood of it returning may be.
In reference to being bullied, Courtney stated:
If I could say anything, it would be just stand up for yourself – absolutely no matter what it takes just stand up for yourself.
Hopefully Courtney’s surgery will prove to be successful.
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Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.