After years of an intense nail biting habit, a 20-year-old student lost her thumb when doctors had to amputate it this past month.
Courtney Whithorn started biting her nails at a young age due to stress from bullying. Come 2014, her habit got so bad that she bit her thumbnail completely off. “My hand was just constantly in a fist because I didn’t want anyone to see it—not even my parents,” she told The Sun.
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The nail never fully grew back and the nail bed began to turn black, which is when Whithorn decided to seek medical treatment. “I saw two plastic surgeons, and they were thinking to remove my nail bed to get rid of the black and then put a skin graft over it so at least it would be skin color—I was happy with that,” she told publication.
However, before the first surgery the doctors decided to do a biopsy, suspicious that something else was wrong. That’s when they diagnosed her with a rare form of cancer called acral lentiginous subungual melanoma, which was linked to the nail-biting trauma.
“When I found out that biting my nail off was the cause of the cancer, it shattered me,” said Whithorn.
After her diagnosis in July, Whithorn has undergone many surgeries, all in attempt to save her thumb. However, last week there was no other option but to amputate it. “I went in for a third surgery and the doctor told me that if he saw anything cancerous then he would have to take the whole thumb.” Her thumb was removed from the knuckle up.
For the next five years, she will also need to continue regular blood tests and PET scans to ensure that all the cancerous cells are gone. “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,” she said. “I’ve just cried every time it’s been brought up.”
Just like with any form of skin cancer, it’s important to keep an eye on any changes in your skin, even under or around your nails. And if you’re ever unsure about something, seek a medical professional’s opinion.
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