Stephanie talks about gaining the confidence to embrace her visible difference

Stephanie’s story: ‘It’s no fun trying to be someone else’

Stephanie had her left eye removed as a child due to a tumour.

Now when people make comments about the way I look, I walk away. I don’t feel I need to explain myself anymore.

My mum was reading me a bedtime story when she noticed a glint of something in my eye. The next day she took me to the doctor who immediately sent us to a specialist eye hospital in London with a sealed envelope.

My left eye had to be removed due to a Retinoblastoma tumour growing behind my eye socket and so began a lifelong journey.

I started school with a prosthetic eye, so I always felt different to everyone else growing up. I was an outcast at school, and I didn’t feel I was able to be myself with many people. There were always questions about why my eye was different, constant remarks and jibes. One boy called me cyclops, while others called me Mrs Doubtfire on account of me being able to take off part of my face.

There were so many days I would come home from school and cry into my pillow, quietly, so no one would worry about me. It was a lot for me, but also for my mum who has always been my best friend.

When I realised that I could hide my eye with a long fringe, my confidence began to improve. From the ages of 16 to 29, I hid behind my hair and felt like I was happy. I’d made many friends and was living my life.

Soon after I had my son, a visit to the hairdressers ended with my own personal nightmare. They cut my hair much shorter than I expected. I felt so exposed and vulnerable with my deepest insecurities now visible to the world. I remember coming home and panicking about what to do. I felt so disgusted with myself for thinking this way.

Having a child made me realise that I never wanted him to feel the way I did. I would want him to grow up and be himself. I was a role model now. So, in a moment of madness, I grabbed a pair of clippers and shaved all my hair off.

Photo of Stephanie after she shaved her head

This was the most liberating thing I have ever done. It forced me to believe in myself. I remember looking at myself in the mirror, taking a photo, and posting it on social media – as I wanted the comments and questions to be over as quickly as possible.

I was shocked at the response – the comments were kind and encouraging, I felt like I was waking up from a dark place. Was this really me?

As a child, when someone called me names, I would believe I was ugly and disfigured. I wouldn’t know what to say to them. Now when people make comments about the way I look, I walk away. I don’t feel I need to explain myself anymore.

My son went under anaesthetic for the first time when he was one month old. Cancer in children spreads very quickly, so we did several visits to make sure there were no tumours growing. He was five when he was discharged.

We speak about those visits to the hospital and how his grandma used to take me when I had a poorly eye. We talk about how everyone is different, but we are all just people. He has learnt from an early age, that differences are what make us stronger as a society.

I am me and I am going to continue to rock being me. I kept my hair shaved for two years before letting it grow. I don’t have a fringe anymore, and I know now that being me is the only person I want to be. It’s no fun trying to be someone else.

We offer a wide range of Self-Help guides for adults, families and young people to learn new techniques to handle living with a visible difference.

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