Many babies are born with birthmarks. Others develop them in the first weeks of their lives. Some will fade with time, while some become a sort of trademark (think Cindy Crawford or Mikhail Gorbachev). Most are harmless, although some people opt to have them removed for cosmetic reasons.
Then there are those that are not only a source of embarrassment, but may be medically challenging. Marissa Dees was born with a skin condition called giant congenital melanocytic nevus. The condition, which affects fewer than 1 in 20,000 newborns, caused dark, hairy skin and moles to cover a large area of her skin. Here are some examples of how it can manifest:
Complications from congenital melanocytic nevus range from fragile, dry and itchy skin to neurological problems and an increased risk of developing malignant melanoma. But beyond that, the birthmarks were also a source of humiliation for Dees. “As a child, I was embarrassed by how I looked and would always wear turtlenecks, even while playing sports and during summer,” the 28-year-old mom from Florida told the Daily Mail. “I used to be ridiculed, people would tell me that I must be ‘part dog’ because I had ‘Dalmatian spots’ all over my skin, which made me hide my skin even more.”
Due to the risk of cancer and other health issues, Dees began having surgeries to remove the nevi as a baby. This left her with severe scarring, which caused further pain and embarrassment. “I have the classification of a bathing trunk nevus with over 100 satellite nevi,” Dees shared on her blog, The Scars Don’t Lie. “My surgeries have stemmed from almost newborn to 25 years of age. I’ve had tissue expanders, nip/tucks, DIEP free flap for breast reconstruction with a follow up to revise the area and of course over 20 skin grafts.”
“I’ve gone from a back full of hairy black nevus and moles, to looking like a burns survivor with a back full of scars,” Dees told The Sun.
She’s not hiding anymore, though. A close friend of Dees who also had the skin condition died from cancer because of her nevus. “It was the wake-up call I needed to embrace who I am and let other people know it’s OK to have this condition and to show your scars,” Dees told Good Housekeeping. “I wear my scars with pride now and let it all hang out. This is my body and how I was made so I appreciate it. I’m still smiling and still beautiful.”
On her blog, she writes, “There is not enough lasers or scar vanishing cream in the world to make the scars fade. I do not mind really though. They have always been apart of me. My kids do not even blink an eye seeing me get out of the shower or change clothes. That is just how God made their Mom.”