Ciera Swaringen was born looking different than other people
Her skin was covered in hundreds of oversized moles and birthmarks due to a rare skin affliction called Giant Congenital Melanocytic Nevus.
Despite being bullied as she’s gotten older, though, Ciera, now older, stated she feels comfortable in her own skin.
“Teenage boys are usually the first ones to comment when they see me. They say things like, ‘You look like you’re dirty, take a wash,'” the North Carolina woman told the Daily Mail.
She added: “But I’m so proud to be different and, at the end of the day, we all have something about us that’s unusual, whether it’s on the inside or the outside.”
Swaringen, who worked works as a shoe store clerk, told the outlet that she used to struggle to overcome the negative comments.
“One day I remember being on the school bus and hearing a young boy laugh at me and call me a spotty dog. That really knocked my confidence, I was only young and it made me feel different to the other kids, like something was wrong with me,” she said of the condition, which affects around one in 500,000 people.
“Over time I’ve learned to brush off negative comments and remember that most people stare and say cruel things because they’re not used to seeing someone with my condition. ‘People in my town don’t bat an eye when they see me now, as they know me. But if I go somewhere new, it’s not so easy.”
Swaringen recalled once what her mother told her.
“I remember when I started school my mom told me that my birthmarks were angel kisses— and that really stuck with me,” she was quoted by Fox News as saying, “and my dad is the first person to stand up to defend me if anyone says anything horrible to me.”
The National Library of Medicine says that giant congenital melanocytic nevus is “characterized by an abnormally dark, noncancerous skin patch (nevus) that is composed of pigment-producing cells called melanocytes. It is present from birth (congenital) or is noticeable soon after birth.”
“Affected individuals may feel anxiety or emotional stress due to the impact the nevus may have on their appearance and their health. Children with giant congenital melanocytic nevus can develop emotional or behavior problems,” the website says.
Meanwhile, those with the condition have an increased risk of skin cancer.
“Estimates vary, but it is generally thought that people with giant congenital melanocytic nevus have a 5 to 10 percent lifetime risk of developing melanoma. Melanoma commonly begins in the nevus, but it can develop when melanocytes that invade other tissues, such as those in the brain and spinal cord, become cancerous. When melanoma occurs in people with giant congenital melanocytic nevus, the survival rate is low,” the website says.