Mother-of-one who is covered in tumours has finally accepted her looks

Mother-of-one who is covered in tumours has finally accepted her looks

Mother, 25, who is covered in tumours and has a severely curved spine finally accepts her looks after her son was born with the same rare disorder

  • Vanessa Cornelio has neurofibromatosis (NF); causes tumours on nerve tissue
  • Two other conditions cause her spine to be curved and bend outwards
  • Was driven to depression until her two-year-old son Daniel Jr. inherited NF  
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A mother who suffers from three serious medical conditions that have left her with tumours all over her body and a severely curved spine is finally embracing her looks.

Vanessa Cornelio, 25, from Glendale, Arizona, was born with the rare genetic disorder neurofibromatosis (NF), which causes tumours to grow on nerve tissue.

She was also diagnosed with scoliosis, which makes her spine curve, and kyphosis, which causes her backbone to bend outwards, at just four years old.

After being driven to depression by her appearance, Miss Cornelio finally accepted her looks when her two-year-old son Daniel Jr. inherited her NF.

‘I don’t want my son to see his mother depressed. I don’t want him to see me not doing anything because of what I have,’ she said.  

Vanessa Cornelio was born with the genetic condition neurofibromatosis (NF), which causes tumours to grow on nerve tissue (seen on her abdomen). After being driven to depression by her looks, Miss Cornelio has finally accepted her appearance after the birth of her son 

Miss Cornelio’s two-year-old son Daniel Jr. (both pictured), who she shares with her fiancé Daniel Robles, inherited NF from his mother. Following his diagnosis, Miss Cornelio decided she did not want to set a bad example to her son by letting the condition hold her back

Miss Cornelio has undergone ten surgeries to straighten her spine, which involved placing metal rods to hold her backbone in place. Pictured is an X-ray after one of the rods separated from her vertebrae. This occurred four weeks after the operation when she leaned forward 

Miss Cornelio shares Daniel Jr. with her fiancé Daniel Robles, who she met almost four years ago while working in a restaurant.

Although thrilled to have met someone after thinking it would never happen to her, she admits pregnancy was difficult. 

‘The hardest moment for my condition was my pregnancy because I was worried all the time I wouldn’t be able to support carrying a child,’ Miss Cornelio told Barcroft TV.

‘I was worried I was going to hurt my baby or my spine was going to snap or one of my rods was going to pop.’

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Although the pregnancy went to plan, Daniel Jr. was diagnosed with NF at birth.

Speaking of her son’s diagnosis, Miss Cornelio said: ‘I felt scared. Those tumours can grow on your brain. Those tumours can grow on your feet. Those tumours can grow on your stomach.

‘I still don’t know what he can get as he gets older but I know what to look out for. I know what to watch for. I am doing all I can to make sure he is okay.’

Although Miss Cornelio is unable to play with her son or carry him like other mothers can, she is doing all she can to ensure he has a fulfilling life.

And she even credits the youngster for helping her accept her uniqueness.

‘It wasn’t until I had my son and Daniel came into my life for me to realise who I am and accept myself,’ Miss Cornelio said.

‘Daniel accepts me, my son accepts me and that’s all that really matters.’

Miss Cornelio met Mr Robles (pictured) almost four years ago while working in a restaurant. She was not initially honest with him about her condition and hid her abdomen. Miss Cornelio claims the acceptance of her son and her fiancé has helped to boost her confidence

After the metal rod in her spine detached, Miss Cornelio underwent surgery that left her unable to sit upright (seen left after the operation). The right image shows her as a child when her spine gradually began to become warped due to her her scoliosis and kyphosis

What is Neurofibromatosis?

Neurofibromatosis is the name of a group of conditions that cause lumps to grow on the coverings of nerves.

There are two main types, the most common being Type 1 or NF1. It affects around one person in 3,000 to 4,000. There is no known cure.

NF is caused by a mutation in one of the genes. About half of the people who have NF have no family history of the condition.

This is called a spontaneous gene mutation. The other half of people will have inherited NF from their mother or father.

Some sufferers are affected by neurofibromas, which usually appear during adolescence. 

These may first appear on the skin as a purplish mark, before a small fibrous lump appears. 

They can also grow along deeper-seated nerves inside the body, which can be painful if knocked.

The lumps can increase in number during a person’s lifetime. 

NF has also been linked to an increased risk of stroke if growths develop on nerve cells in the brain and cut off the organ’s blood supply.  

There is no treatment to stop the lumps from appearing, although surgery or laser treatment can sometimes be used to remove them. 

Miss Cornelio has undergone around 15 operations – five to remove her tumours and the remainder to straighten her spine with metal rods.

Despite going under the knife multiple times, she still battles daily discomfort.

‘The pain is just there. I don’t know how to describe it. Back ache, hip ache, shoulder pain, neck pain – there is just a lot of pain,’ Miss Cornelio said.

As well as having to learn to cope with the agony of her conditions, there is also the risk they could become more serious.

‘I could have my spine collapse on my lungs, or I could lose the feeling in my legs,’ Miss Cornelio said.

Although having Daniel Jr. has helped Miss Cornelio accept her conditions, she still battles daily pain that affects her back, hip, shoulder and neck. She also lives in the fear that her spine could collapse and crush her lungs or that she may lose feeling in her legs 

Miss Cornelio is pictured at four years old before she underwent her first operation. The 10-hour surgery aimed to help correct her curved spine. At the time, her NF just appeared as birthmark-like blemishes, which developed into tumours when she turned 12 or 13

As a baby, Miss Cornelio’s NF appeared like birthmarks on her torso, which developed into lumps as she got older.  

‘My physical appearance was different by the time I was 12 or 13. And not in the way that a normal female’s body should be,’ she said.

‘I didn’t have the boobs, I didn’t have the butt, I didn’t have what everyone was going through at that age. I was growing tumours on my stomach. I was having surgeries on my back.

‘People would ask me if I was pregnant because I had stomach tumours and that shut me down a lot because I was just fat in my stomach.

What is scoliosis?

Scoliosis is the abnormal curvature of the spine in an S-shape.

Signs include a visible curve in the spine, one shoulder or hip being more prominent than the other, clothes not hanging properly and back pain.

Pain usually only affects adults with the condition.

In most cases, the cause of the scoliosis is not known but it can be caused by cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy.

In the UK, scoliosis affects three to four children could of every 1,000.

It is also thought that as many as 70 per cent of over 65s have some degree of scoliosis.

It is more common in women than in men.

Most children with the condition do not require treatment as it is mild and corrects itself as the child grows.

However, in severe cases the child may need to wear a back brace until they stop growing.

Occasionally, a child needs surgery to straighten their spine.

In adults, it is usually too late to treat the condition with a back brace or surgery so treatment revolves around reducing pain.

Source: NHS Choices

‘It’s hard to have what I have on my body and be okay because women around the world work out, they have perfect bodies, they have everything.’ 

As well as facing the challenges of NF, Miss Cornelio had her first surgery to correct her curved spine at just four years old, with the procedure taking 10 hours.   

Scoliosis causes the spine to curve sideways, while kyphosis means the backbone also bends outwards, causing a hunch. 

Miss Cornelio claims that in the first surgery she was ‘cut from the back of her neck all the way down to her tailbone’.

But the operation was not the end of her suffering.  

In 2007, when Miss Cornelio was 14 years old, a doctor noticed during a checkup that part of the rod holding her spine together had separated from the vertebrae.

After undergoing surgery to fix this, she ‘heard a pop’ just four weeks later during basketball practice when she leaned forward to drink some water.

Although at the time she thought nothing of it, Miss Cornelio began to lose feeling in her legs over the next few weeks.

When she went to her doctor, she was told the rod in her back had snapped.

The operation to correct this left Miss Cornelio unable to sit upright, which forced her to have a second surgery with a different doctor, who finally managed to fix the issue.

She then underwent months of physical therapy to learn to work again.

Her mother Lucinda said: ‘At one point she didn’t think she was going to be able to walk. At one point her legs gave out and that was the most frightening.’

But Miss Cornelio persevered and eventually regained the use of her legs.

Although she has not had surgery since, she still does not have 100 per cent feeling in her legs and lives with constant back ache.

Miss Cornelio is pictured after her first surgery being visited by the NBA player Shawn Marion

Despite her daily discomfort, Miss Cornelio has refused to let her condition stop her from living her life.   

And her Mr Robles has always shown her unwavering support.

‘Vanessa didn’t really tell me about her conditions [at first]…eventually she ended up showing me,’ he said. 

‘When I saw her I saw just another girl. And then ended up falling in love with her.’

Miss Cornelio added: ‘Daniel loves me the way I am, for how I am, and he wants me to do whatever will make me happy and I really love that.

‘I never had that. Never thought I was going to have anyone like him in my life.’

Pictured as a child with her brother, Miss Cornelio struggled when she went through puberty due to her not developing the body of a ‘normal’ teenage girl and instead was covered in painful tumours. ‘I didn’t have what everyone was going through at that age,’ she said

Since her son’s birth, Miss Cornelio has started a YouTube channel where she documents her life.

And, for the first time ever, she recently posted a picture on social media where her tumours were visible.

She also had a boudoir photo shoot with her fiancé, which she says helped her come out of her shell. 

‘I wanted [the photographer] to capture me naked in a sense – my spine, my back, my tumours, everything,’ Miss Cornelio said.

‘It’s just another way to create memories and I feel like I had such a hard life and I have never talked about it.

‘I have never opened up about my condition, I never voiced anything and I have been literally in this room my whole life.

‘I want to reach out and hopefully become the voice for the ones that are scared because I can tell you I was completely scared.

She added: ‘Now I just don’t care anymore because I have this condition. I have what I have and I have to accept it.

‘And I have to make sure that my son accepts himself and just has a good mindset and remains positive because I have been negative my whole life and I’m done being negative.’


Kyphosis is curvature of the spine that causes the back of the vertebrae to appear more rounded than normal.

Although everyone has a slight degree of curvature in their spine, a bend of more than 45 degrees is considered abnormal.

A curved or hunched back may be the only symptom.

However, some may also suffer:

  • Back pain and stiffness
  • Tenderness of the spine
  • Fatigue

Kyphosis  can be caused by poor posture, an abnormally shaped spine, abnormal development of the backbone in the womb, spinal injury or simply old age.

Treatment depends on how severe the condition is, as well as if the patient has other symptoms.

Children may benefit from non-surgical interventions like bracing. However, mild cases may not require treatment. 

Surgery is only required in severe cases.

Untreated, extreme kyphosis can cause persistent pain that is not relieved with medication, as well as breathing difficulties if the spine compresses the airways or lungs.

Patients may also experience numbness in their limbs, poor balance and loss of normal bowel or bladder control.

Kyphosis can somewhat be prevented by avoiding slouching, sitting upright, not carrying heavy bags and exercising to strengthen the back.

Source: NHS Choices 

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