A 20-year-old from Australia recently had her thumb amputated due to a cancer that doctors say was most likely caused by nail biting.
Courtney Whithorn says she began biting her nails in 2014 as a way to cope with the anxiety caused by severe bullying from her classmates.
“I was bullied to the point where even the thought of going to school gave me anxiety, so much so that biting my nails became a coping mechanism,” Whithorn wrote in a Facebook post. “I didn’t even realize that I had totally bitten my entire thumb nail off until I saw blood on my hand.”
After continuing to bite her nails due to bullying and stress, Whithorn’s thumb began to turn black. Doctors diagnosed the psychology student with Acral lentiginous subungual melanoma — a form of skin cancer that effects the palms of the hands, feet and nails.
Whithorn says that doctors believe the trauma to the nail bed most likely lead to her developing cancer — diagnosis that left both Whithorn and her family in complete shock.
“When I found out that biting my nail off was the cause of the cancer it shattered me,” she told The Sun. “My hand was just constantly in a fist because I didn’t want anyone to see it – not even my parents.I got a bit freaked out when my skin started to go black so I showed them for the first time this year.I can’t even explain how self-conscious I was. I always had fake nails to hide it because it was so black. It was like paper whenever it grew back.”
Although most types of skin cancer are linked to sun exposure, new studies have suggested that injury, such as Whithorn’s severe nail biting, could also be the cause.
Since her diagnosis in July, Whithorn has had four surgeries on her thumb: Three to remove the damaged lymph nodes, and one to amputate.
“Literally everything we’ve caught, we’ve caught it on the cusp of it going to the rest of my body – the timing has just been everything,” she said. “Because it had started to travel, the only option left was amputation but this time I was much more prepared for that news. I wasn’t scared going in for the amputation surgery – I was more nervous as I’m not a big fan of needles and stuff.”
As Whithorn recovers, she reflects on the traumatizing path that lead to her developing her dangerous nail biting habit.”
“After the most emotionally draining few months – I am still waiting on what will hopefully be my final set of results to give me the final ‘all clear’ – I am so happy to close this book and go on with more knowledge and awareness than ever before,” she wrote on Facebook. “Please make sure you think about what you say to and about people, because you truly have no idea the psychological, emotional and physical impact it can have on someone.”