Social worker who is covered from head to toe in tiny tumours has been refused into swimming pools
Social worker, 57, who is covered from head to toe in tiny tumours reveals how she’s been refused into swimming pools and asked to move on flights by heartless strangers
- Gail Applegren has battled with neurofibromatosis (NF) her whole life
- With 180 growths on one hand alone, she believes it makes her ‘special’
- Cruel strangers often ask her not to swim in public pools or touch food
A woman who is covered from head to toe in tiny tumours reveals how she has been refused entry into public swimming pools and even asked to move on flights by heartless strangers.
Gail Applegren, 57, from Edmonton in Alberta, Canada, has battled with neurofibromatosis (NF) her whole life, which she believes makes her ‘special’ and ‘unique’.
Her condition has left her with 180 growths on one hand alone, as well as tumours twice the size of her fist on her back.
Despite the cruel comments she receives from strangers, Mrs Applegren, a retired social worker, said: ‘I don’t cover up, I wear sleeveless shirts and tops. I’m a regular person, I laugh and cry, like you or anybody else.
‘When I look in the mirror, I don’t see neurofibromatosis, I see Gail looking back at me. I see my smile and my bright eyes, that’s the way I’ve always been.’
Gail Applegren, who is covered in thousands of tumours all over her body, refuses to hide her condition, known as neurofibromatosis, despite many assuming she has a contagious disease
Pictured at 14, the age she was diagnosed with NF, Mrs Applegren always had a large tumour on her chest, as well as lots of flat birthmarks. It was not until she developed a growth on her breast that hung down and grew under her armpit that her condition was realised
Despite enduring cruel comments from strangers, Mrs Applegren (pictured with her husband Tim Golumbia, 55, who also has NF) refuses to let her appearance affect her
Speaking of her condition, Mrs Applegren said: ‘I cannot even guess how many bumps I have, they are in the thousands and thousands.
‘My entire torso has wall-to-wall bumps. There are so many they are growing on each other or out of each other.
‘When I look at my one hand I count 180 from the wrist up but the other has double that number.
‘The biggest is on my stomach and others range from the size of my fist of my stomach and one on my back and tail bone that was twice my fist size, to smaller than that.’
Although others gawk at her appearance, Mrs Applegren refuses to let it impact her confidence.
She said: ‘I think I’m unique and special because I have a condition a lot of people don’t understand, even some doctors don’t know about it.
‘I live every day to the fullest, as I get older the more complications I have with NF but I’m a happy and active person.’
WHAT IS NEUROFIBROMATOSIS?
Neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1) is a common genetic condition that affects one in 3,000 people in the UK to some extent.
It’s caused by a genetic mutation that affects nerve tissue growth.
Around half of cases are inherited from a parent and the other half occur spontaneously.
Early symptoms include flat brown birthmarks, and lumps and bumps in unusual places.
It is also associated with mild learning difficulties, although most people with NF1 are otherwise healthy and live to a normal life expectancy.
There is no cure, however, surgery can be performed to remove the benign growths.
Source: The Neuro Foundation
Despite being content with her growths, Mrs Applegren still requires up two surgeries a year to help manage the pain of her disorder. She is pictured after her first operation this year
Mrs Applegren describes her torso as being ‘wall-to-wall bumps’. On one hand alone, she counted 180 growths, with some on her back and tailbone being twice the size of her fist
Mrs Applegren previously said she was too busy for love until she met Tim in 2010. Pictured on their wedding day in 2014, the couple are celebrating their four-year anniversary
The pair refuse to let their NF hold them back, despite one woman asking Mr Golumbia if he caught NF from his wife due to him having fewer growths than her
Although Mrs Applegren has always had a large tumour on her chest and numerous flat birthmarks, it was not until she turned 12 that the growths on her body began to multiply at a rapid rate.
At 14 years old, she was finally diagnosed with NF after developing a large mass on her breast that hung down and grew under her armpit.
Despite numerous surgeries to remove the large mass, which was 22cm (nine inches) across and hung 30cm (12 inches) down, it continued to grow back, with Mrs Applegren risking her life during every operation.
She said: ‘When I had part of the large one removed from my chest, they almost lost me because I lost so much blood, but I was determined and lived on.
‘It was so big that they couldn’t get to the root of it, so had to go in for a second time. They removed more of the tissue from my chest and some of my ribs, then rebuilt it.’
Mrs Applegren still undergoes up to two surgeries a year to help manage the pain of her disorder, with small tumours continuing to grow back regardless.
Mrs Applegren believes her appearance makes her ‘unique’ and ‘special’. Although her condition is painful, she insists she ‘lives life to the fullest’ and is a ‘happy, active person’
Mrs Applegren is pictured at 23 after having surgery to remove a tumour from her foot
Despite her confidence, Mrs Applegren admits the stigma around NF often lands her and her husband Tim Golumbia, 55, who also suffers from NF, into difficult situations.
She said: ‘We were on a flight to our vacation destination when the flight attendant came and told me that someone was on the airplane and thought I was contagious.
‘They added that my husband must have caught it from me as he did not have as many bumps. We were already in the air and the flight attendant said she didn’t know how to deal with this issue.
‘So, I gave her a piece of paper with the spelling of condition and recommended she Google and research the condition. I assured her I was not contagious.
‘When we were leaving the country, on our way home we were detained at the airport but no explanation was provided.
Mrs Applegren, who said she was too busy for love until she met Mr Golumbia in 2010, added: ‘Once, when Tim came with me to a medical appointment, a man moved and said, “You are contagious”, as Tim had some bumps but not as many as I had.
‘A doctor I saw earlier this year, not my regular doctor, told me to just get a skin transplant.’
As she grew older, Mrs Applegren’s tumours began to multiply at a rapid rate. Despite having surgery to remove them, the growths came back bigger, causing her more discomfort
Pictured at 25 on holiday in Cuba, Mrs Applegren has always refused to cover up, describing herself as just a normal person who does not even see her bumps when she looks in the mirror
As a very young child, pictured at three, she did not suffer from NF but it soon developed
Although she has endured cruel comments all her life, Mrs Applegren relishes educating others on NF.
She said: ‘I love people asking about it, I want to tell them. Seeing me it’s very obvious that I don’t look like a lot of other people. I tell them that I have a condition that makes me look different.
‘It’s something I’ve dealt with all my life, but I would like to say I’m not contagious.
‘I have been asked not to swim in the pool, not to touch fruit at the supermarket and more.
‘When a little boy asked me about my condition, I explained that it makes me special and unique. He said, “Isn’t there anything they can do for you?” I shook my head and he replied, “You are fine the way you are”.’
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