Mum discovers daughter's birthmark was actually genetic disorder

·Features and Health Editor
·6-min read

Aussie mum Amanda opens up to Yahoo Lifestyle about her three-year-old daughter Lyla’s journey with Neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder that causes tumours to form on nerve tissue, bone, or skin, and the signs every parent should look out for.

Amanda and three-year-old daughter Lyla
Aussie mum Amanda and three-year-old daughter Lyla. Photo: Supplied/Amanda

Lyla was a little late in developing her gross motor skills, but with the support of our GP, children and family nurse, and a physiotherapist, we were guided on ways to encourage her to meet these milestones. Although she would learn them a little late, she would then master these skills quick and make us forget a time she wasn’t demonstrating them.

Lyla had a few birthmarks when she was born. I couldn’t say how many because I never thought it was important.

I myself, have a few birthmarks and therefore, thought nothing of them. However, as Lyla got older, more and more freckles and birth marks appeared. At 10 months old, I took my own photos and made a note to ask the GP about them at her check-up.

After skimming through some information on Google, I found it overwhelming and I decided to push it out of my head, until our doctor’s appointment. Surely, I was reading into it too much.

Asking the question

After months of thinking I was just a paranoid first-time mum, I decided to ask our GP about them, at Lyla’s 18-month check-up. After examining her, he informed me that they are called café-au-lait spots and suggested that there was a possibility it could be Neurofibromatosis. He referred us to a paediatrician, who would know more about it.

lyla birthmarks Neurofibromatosis
Lyla had a few birthmarks when she was born. Photo: Supplied

In this time of the unknown, everyone tells you not to Google, as it is quite confronting. In my mind, I thought we would deal with it, once it was confirmed.

At our appointment, the paediatrician asked a lot of questions and examined Lyla. She confirmed that it was most likely NF1 however, she would need to refer us to a geneticist for a clinical diagnosis.

She then asked how I felt and said that parents often go through a grieving process, once their child is diagnosed. I don’t think the seriousness really hit me, until I heard that phrase, ‘grieving process’.

What is Neurofibromatosis?

After that appointment, came all the research. NF is such a complex condition, that it is hard to know what to expect. As parents, the last thing you want, is for your child to experience any pain or difficult times in their life. Everything we were reading, outlined a far from ideal life including constant doctors’ appointments, tests, learning difficulties and more.

The most upsetting symptoms were the tumours that could grow anywhere in and out of the body, which could lead to physical disability, disfigurement or even cancer.

We were desperately looking for real life stories of people who had NF1 and had little symptoms or complications, which was next to impossible to find. The statistics state that 50 per cent of people living with NF, have a mild form, however, this was not reflected in the information and stories we were finding.

lyla Neurofibromatosis ultrasounds
She was eventually diagnosed with Neurofibromatosis - NF1 and needs regular ultrasounds. Photo: Supplied

In the months we waited for the genetics appointment, I was giving Lyla a bath one night and noticed a bump on her back. It seemed to be there one minute and then she’d move, and it seemed to be gone. I made another appointment with the GP and remember saying to him, ‘I’m sure I’m imagining it, but can you just see if you can see a bump on her back.’

Surely enough, he agreed and after examining her said she possibly had a curve in her spine. He sent us to get it x-rayed and it showed a result of mild scoliosis, which was another symptom of NF1.

Official diagnosis for Lyla

At the genetics appointment, Lyla was officially clinically diagnosed with NF1. The geneticist sent us to get an ultrasound on the bump on Lyla’s back and as she suspected, it was a plexiform neurofibroma. We also had an ultrasound of a mass on the sole of her foot and she had an eye examination with an ophthalmologist, which came back all clear.

Our paediatrician organised for a MRI, to check for any more internal tumours and after another long wait, we received the best possible news, that there were no more internal growths and that her current plexiform neurofibroma, was not attached to, or encroaching on, her spine.

After a very long process, all the initial testing has been done. Now comes a lifetime of monitoring, and hoping there are no more major complications created by NF1.

Lyla will have yearly appointments with her paediatrician and neurologist. She will have six-monthly eye examinations with the ophthalmologist, until she is four and she will also have a yearly ultrasound on her plexiform neurofibroma/s.

The biggest challenge

NF1 is hard to understand and process as an adult, so it is going to be extremely tricky explaining it all to a young child. This will be one our biggest challenges, providing Lyla with necessary knowledge, while not giving her a life of worry, at a young age.

We don’t want NF1 to define who Lyla is, however NF1 will always be a part of her and we want her to be proud and comfortable with that. In the last few months, Lyla noticed some of her bigger spots while she was getting dressed.

I told her they were her ‘special spots’ and have tried to paint them in a positive light, so she will hopefully grow up to love them. Luckily, I have a couple of these spots, so now we look at ‘Lyla’s special spots’ and ‘Mummy’s special spots’ and we bond over them.

Even though this has been an extremely difficult journey so far, Lyla continues to be a shining light in our lives. We don’t know what the future will hold for her, but we do know that she continues to make us proud and she will have an amazing life.

Doing the ‘Cupid’s Undie Run’

2020 was the first year we were involved, and we were lucky that the Kiama event was held just before COVID reached Australia. We helped to sell raffle tickets and created our own team of supportive friends and family to join us on the day. We were proud to help raise awareness for Neurofibromatosis and the Children’s Tumour Foundation and our team raised over $2000 to go towards the foundation.

cupids undie run
The family do the Cupid's Undie Run to raise awareness and funds for Neurofibromatosis. Photo: Supplied

The Cupid’s Undie Run is about showing that even though we all may look different, we are all strong, unique and most importantly loved, which are important messages we want Lyla to grow up knowing.

It is also ultimately about a shared hope that one day there will be a cure for NF.

The Cupid’s Undie Run Challenge 2021 runs from February 14-28.

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