By: Kim Davis/Thoughtful Women For 22-year-old Sophie Walker, feelings of shame and unworthiness had become her constant companion after decades of heartless bullying. “I forced myself to go out and socialize, but I’d hide away behind a pair of sunglasses, too ashamed to let anyone see my face.”
Walker, from Norfolk, United Kingdom, was born with a rare condition called neurofibromatosis type 1. She inherited the condition from her mother, who has a much milder form of the genetic disorder.
According to the National Organization for Rare Disorders, neurofibromatosis is characterized by non-cancerous tumors that grow along the body. The disease is incurable, and young Walker has already endured painful surgeries on her face to best manage the persistent tumor growth.
Walker has spent her young life trying not to let the cruel remarks and stares get to her. As a child, bullies called her “tumor girl,” and as Walker soon discovered, the bullying didn’t stop once she reached adulthood.
If anything, the taunting and cruelty that Walker’s faced was taken to a new level, as men would “date” her, only to make fun of her, Walker recalled. “Big groups of them have come up to me take a selfie with me — which I know will just be uploaded to Facebook for people to poke fun at.”
Walker will never forget the wounds that came when a group of men began placing bets with one another to see who would kiss “tumor girl.” Confidence at an all-time low, Walker figured she would spend her adult life alone.
And of course, people habitually asked Walker why she didn’t just have the tumors removed — as if she’d never thought of that before. “But because it is attached to nerve endings, completely removing it would actually paralyze my face,” Walker explained.
Trying to move on with her life, Walker enrolled at Harper Adams University in Shropshire as an agriculture student. She didn’t know it yet, but things would soon be looking up for the brave fighter.
“By the time I started university, my confidence was in tatters,” Walker admitted. “My tumor was so heavy that it was pulling my eye down, and I’d get painful sores in the creases.”
In September 2016, Walker met up with an old friend — a 22-year-old farm boy named Christian Dibden. “We were supposed to be catching up as friends, but there was a lot of flirting and I realized I felt something more,” Walker said.
Unlike the men in her past, Dibden didn’t shy away from being seen with her. The agriculture-loving duo has been dating since September, and Walker has found her confidence returning, along with a renewed hope that her future can be happy.
“Men used to keep me secret and would be embarrassed to be seen with me,” Walker said. “But now I’ve finally found someone who makes me feel beautiful and loves me for who I am.”