Australian student Courtney Whithorn suffered such extreme bullying that she developed an almost life-threatening habit – nail-biting.
After three surgeries, the 20-year-old student had her thumb amputated when doctors diagnosed her with a rare type of cancer called acral lentiginous subungual melanoma.
Courtney's doctors believe the disease is linked to years of severe trauma to the nail bed. The psychology student fell victim to schoolyard bullying at just 16-years-old and hid the physical signs of her mental stress from her family and friends.
Courtney’s nail-biting eventually became so serious that she once bit her thumb nail completely off. It never grew back properly, resulting in a persistent bruised and purplish discolouration.
Since her shock diagnosis in July, Courtney has undergone four surgeries. Sadly her thumb had to be amputated just one week ago. “I also had two lymph nodes taken out for them to test whether or not the cancer had spread. The pigmentation from my thumb had travelled so it was dark but none of the malignant cells had travelled yet,” Courtney, who lives on the Gold Coast, told The Sun.
“Literally everything we’ve caught, we’ve caught it on the cusp of it going to the rest of my body – the timing has just been everything.”
Courtney’s passion for writing has been affected by her thumb amputation, and she's also had to defer her university course to recover.
"I’m still waiting for that set of results from the surgery last week and if it’s clear then the surgeon watches me for the next five years and I get regular scans and bloods," she said.
"There’s not enough research to say what the survival rate is or what the likelihood of it coming back is because – we just don’t know much about it. I’ve just cried every time it’s been brought up. The location of the cancer in my thumb is unknown so if it still shows up then they’re just going to have to keep cutting away until we get a clear result."
Following the surgery, Courtney's mother, Sara Whithorn, revealed to Marie Claire that high school bullying was the cause of her daughter's severe nail-biting. She hopes that Courtney's ordeal can be a lesson to everyone about the extreme trauma - both mental and physical - that bullying can lead to.
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This article originally appeared on Marie Claire.