Farina Mitchell (Australia)
A personal story
I am Farina Mitchell and I was born in January 1959 in Sydney Australia, the first child of Guy and Dorrie. My vascular malformation is down my left side, predominantly on my hand and arm but also across my chest, back, bottom, and splattered down my leg to my toes. I think it would be diagnosed as DCMO now but it has been some time since I have seen a professional. Initially the doctor refused to acknowledge my birthmark and told Mum that it was ‘afterbirth’ and would fade in a few days. So little was known or understood in those times. A number of old women asked Mum what she had done wrong during her pregnancy – Did you drink too much red wine? Did you eat to many strawberries or raspberries?
Amazingly some people still believe such silly stories.
My life has been very good, I grew up in a loving family that refused to allow anything to hold me back. We live very close to the ocean, swimming and outdoor life is a big part of how we live. My parents encouraged me to be strong and independent, to stand tall, answer people’s questions honestly and not to take offence when sometimes they were blunt. Most people are just curious and don’t mean to be rude. I would rather someone ask than to stare and I will raise the conversation when I think someone just needs to know but doesn’t have the courage to ask.
For parents reading this, wondering what your child experiences, I would say the hardest time for me was transitioning from junior school to high school (the 11-13-year-old age bracket). I don’t remember any real problems in junior school where everyone knew me from a very young age but when I started high school there were some issues with bullying. I put this down to meeting new people and everyone changing, going through puberty, becoming more aware of our appearance and learning more about ourselves. Sometimes it was tough but I believe everyone goes through some issues at this age, mine was just more visible. I would also note that most doctors have little or no experience with vascular malformations, ( I am excluding Vascular specialists here) so be prepared for lots of questions, even some rather outrageous assumptions whenever you visit a new doctor or a hospital. There will be times when you are the expert. As an example only, I had one doctor in the 1970s who thought he could remove my mark using an acid solution to burn it off. Thank goodness my mother said no. You are your child’s chief advocate, trust your instincts, become as educated as you can and build strength from within.
I have had a wonderful career in the media, I have two fantastic children who are grown up now and have no signs of a birthmark and I have a wonderful husband who loves me the way I am. I swim, snow ski, play netball, walk a lot and have a great life. My birthmark is so much a part of me that I am not sure I would remove it, even if I could. It has given me empathy for others with problems and, on occasion, has made me more approachable when someone needs help.