White As New Fallen Snow: How Vitiligo And Michael Taught Me Compassion, by Joyce Frame

 

Hidden Away Beneath Layers Of Protective Clothing, Seldom Seen By Anyone Except His Closest Friends…This Is What The Body Of Michael Jackson Actually Looked Like.

This article originally appeared on the Voices Education Project website. I am reprinting here with permission of the author. Joyce Frame gives a compassionate account of what it was like-literally-to live inside Michael Jackson’s skin; to know the same trials and tribulations he faced as a victim of this disease. Why? Because she has lived it!

Case Study: White As New Fallen Snow: How Vitiligo And Michael Taught Me Compassion

By: Joyce Frame

I am a 52 year old white woman, and when I say white, I mean white like new fallen snow! I have Vitiligo. Vitiligo is a disease that can compromise your immune system and distort your whole appearance.

The summer before I was getting ready for college, I noticed some strange looking chalky patches that suddenly appeared on my hands. I was an olive skinned girl who never worried about sunburn and who tanned every summer to a golden mocha. Of course in those days of the early seventies we were slathering ourselves with baby oil never giving a thought to sunscreen. It never occurred to me to worry about my skin or the sun or my appearance beyond the occasional pimple and getting the latest fad in fashion and makeup.

The Hands Are Often The First Place Affected

 

Michael’s Right Hand In An Advanced Stage Of The Disease

I thought the spots were from the French fry grease at the fast food restaurant where I worked that summer to save up money for college. I was sure they were small burns from the fryer and would go away when the burns healed. But at college that fall, I noticed the spots not only had not disappeared, but had grown larger while new ones were forming on my elbows. I knew then that they could no longer be ignored.

I had never even heard of the word: “Vitiligo” but after my doctor visit, I soon became intimate with it as it became a huge feature in my world. An autoimmune disorder, I learned that Vitiligo can be genetically passed down in families but not always. My family has no history of Vitiligo. And it was autoimmune- what a heart-stopping betrayal! Everybody wants to be “comfortable in their own skin” but my own skin was damaging itself and damaging me! How can your own skin turn on you?

I began to read everything I could find on the disease. Vitiligo is an antibody that is in your genes when you are born and for some reason it gets stimulated to start destroying your melanoctyes which are the cells in your skin and hair that produce melanin. Melanin is what gives your skin pigment or color. There is lots of research being explored to discover what triggers Vitiligo and what determines how fast it spreads. It may be environmental factors, stress, physical factors like hormones and blood loss or most likely a combination of all of these. The medical community has established that the antibodies in Vitiligo completely destroy the melanocyte.

Vitiligo Is A Person’s Own Body Turning On Itself-And Literally Destroying Itself. The White Spots Seen In This Photo “Could” Possibly Be Due To Lighting. But The Brownish-Red Spots On His Chest And Brown Splotches On His Arm Are Clearly Vitiligo

That means that my body sees my own cells as something foreign that needs to be attacked, destroyed and removed! There are some treatments that may help restore pigment in some cases but those treatments are not a cure. As of now, there is no cure. The treatments are very time consuming and involve taking a drug that can cause liver damage. I tried a few of these therapies early on when my white spots were not so widespread, but it was not very successful. I decided that I would rather have white spots which were not painful or really hurting me in any way, (other than sunburn, and strange glances and remarks from people) than risk damaging my liver and turning yellow from the resulting jaundice! Did I want to turn white or turn yellow? Were those my only choices? Nursing was my college major and that influenced my decision to forego the drugs because I understood, medically, the reality of the side effects. I later tried the depigmentation therapy on my face to bleach out the remaining dark areas but it did not work very well for me. It affects everyone differently and it takes a lot of diligence and repeated treatments.

Vitiligo Splotches Are Visible On Michael’s Arms

The National Vitiligo Foundation (NVF) is a lifesaving resource for people afflicted with this disease. They spearhead the research and search for a cure while providing education and resources for sufferers of this disease. Vitiligo is in the same category as other autoimmune disorders like Lupus, Reynaud’s, Diabetes, and some Thyroid disorders. Most people who acquire an autoimmune disorder develop more than one. I recently discovered that my Thyroid is also involved and I have mild Reynaud’s which is a disorder that affects the circulation in extremities like hands and feet. It makes one’s fingers and toes cold and discolored from poor circulation.

I learned at an NVF conference I attended that because melanocytes are completely destroyed by Vitiligo, there is zero chance of getting Melanoma in the areas that are white. Researchers are looking at a possible treatment for Melanoma using antibodies taken from the blood of people with Vitiligo. The thought is that maybe those melanoctye-destroying antibodies might provide a treatment or cure for cancer is a thought I like to hang onto because it would mean that something good could come out of this disorder.

Not An Eccentricity, But A Necessity. Vitiligo Sufferers Have No Natural Protection From The Sun

There are emotional valleys for the person adjusting to the diagnosis of Vitiligo. Over time Vitiligo spreads and is not easy to hide in those stages. My face, hands, arms, and legs became covered with white patches and were a source of embarrassment for me. But the day came when I decided that I was not going to wear long sleeves and pants for the rest of my life! I did need to protect my skin however, because the depigmented skin has no protection from the sun. I found out the hard way how badly burned one can get from the sun if not extra careful. I sometimes think I alone keep the sunscreen industry in business. There are days I wish for a vat to dip myself into to decrease the time it takes to apply sunscreen and protect my skin because it’s necessary if I am going to continue the outdoor activities I love and enjoy. The evening is a better time for me to do things when the sun is not so intense and I forego things scheduled for daytime when the sun is bright. It does require lifestyle adjustments.

I often think how fortunate I was that I didn’t have to deal with this during my junior high and high school years. Being a teenager dealing with all of the hormonal changes, peer pressure and confusion is tough enough without harsh comments about one’s strange and changing appearance. I am sure I would have had to endure cutting remarks regarding my strange appearance. I did need to learn to deal with people staring and making comments especially during the summer months when my pigmented skin was darker in color and I was more exposed wearing summer clothes. I have heard some very bizarre, sometimes funny and occasionally hurtful comments.

I don’t think people intend to be mean but are surprised by someone’s (mine) appearance and don’t think before they speak. I imagine that I did look odd with white spots all over my skin. Children wanted to know if I was “like a leopard” or was I “part zebra?” Adults thought I had been burned and would ask “is it painful” or “is it contagious?” I think I actually liked it better when someone would actually speak to me about their curiosity and ask questions rather than just staring or worse yet snickering or whispering to their friends. Explanations had to be necessarily lengthy and that took up my time when I might have preferred to spend it in some other way.

I will never forget one of the saddest encounters I can remember with a woman who was from India who stopped me one day in a parking lot:

“I noticed the patches on your skin. Do you have Vitiligo?”

“Yes, I do. Are you familiar with it?”

“Yes. My sister who lives in India will never be able to marry because she has Vitiligo. There is a taboo surrounding it in that culture and no man would consider marrying a woman with the disease and whose appearance is marred and undesirable. When it comes to women, India places a lot of emphasis on beauty.”

Between Cosmetics And Retouching, Michael Was Able To Conceal The Condition Most Of The Time. But Even Here, You Can See The Splotches On His Shoulder. Vitiligo Sufferers Have To Learn To Live With The Stigma Of Being A “Spotted Person.”

I could not fathom that attitude nor imagine it to be true. I thought about how lucky I was to have met a man who looked at me and loved me without seeing a “spotted person” but saw a human being. Actually, he was more offended by people staring and snickering at me than I was. I was once stopped in a store by a woman who wanted to know how I had gotten such a bad case of poison ivy. I was baffled by that one until she added that she couldn’t believe how much calamine lotion I had on!

There was one incident where I noticed a lady staring at me which happened all the time, but this time she began following me in the grocery store and when it got a little creepy I turned to face her. She remarked that I “must be an amazing volleyball player to have so many brush burns on my knees and elbows from diving for balls.” I had to bite my tongue so I wouldn’t burst out laughing! I always feel bad for most of the people who make comments because they are so embarrassed when I tell them the facts. The most hurtful encounters are with people who don’t take the time to stop and ask but just stare, point or even laugh. There were times I would actually forget that I did look “odd” until I noticed someone staring or pointing and that would launch me right back into feeling self-conscious and awkward.

I realized too, that I was fortunate to be a white person with Vitiligo. I met several black people with Vitiligo at the NVF conferences I attended and learned how much more devastating it is for them. I was a white person who was turning whiter. They were black people who were becoming white. Not only did they have to deal with the physical changes, but they had to deal with feeling a loss of their race and identity. I cannot speak to this but I can certainly empathize with how much more difficult that must be to lose your ethnic roots, identity or race and to not only question your own identity, but have all that questioned by others.

The Famous Face of Vitilgo 

This Pic Shows How Badly Even Michael’s Face Was Splotched, Beneath The Layers Of Makeup He Usually Wore To Hide It

That brings me to the most famous person to have Vitiligo: Michael Jackson. I was a big Michael fan from his early days with the Jackson Five and all through his solo career. He and I were the same age so I grew up on his music and dancing. I remember hearing for the first time the rumors that he was bleaching himself white; I thought that was crazy. I knew personally how difficult it was to try to use depigmentation as a treatment for Vitiligo so I couldn’t imagine how someone could actually bleach their entire body. I asked my dermatologist at one of my yearly visits in the late eighties if she knew anything about Michael Jackson’s skin color and she told me that it was known by most in the dermatology community that he had Vitiligo.

At first I was excited to think that I shared something in common with Michael Jackson. Then as the reality set in, the more I thought about it, the more I realized how horrible it must have been for him. Not only was he a black man, he was probably the most well known person in the world and someone who performed in front of millions of people. It was easy for me to just ignore the stares and go on with my life but how do you do that when you are in the spotlight all the time and subjected to ridicule and tabloid trash talk? I can understand why he tried to cover his Vitiligo up the best he could with makeup and clothes. Michael was known to be a very private person who didn’t want to divulge his medical condition to the world. I have a feeling he may not have received a lot of support from those around him, his professional contacts, and certainly not from the media. And when he did admit to having Vitiligo, so many hateful people in the media refused to believe it using ridicule and writing he “claims to have a skin condition.” Claims to? They accused him of trying to bleach his skin and become a white person. They called him a traitor to his race thinking he had betrayed the African American community of his roots. Who would chose a disease that betrays your own body, challenges your very identity and continually changes your appearance requiring medical treatment and makeup? How does someone who makes their living with their famous face and who faces a debilitating disease deal with that kind of ridicule and mocking from the press?

There were those in both the black and the white communities who turned against him simply because of his changing appearance. Hurtful words can be more painful than a physical attack. Michael endured far too many hateful, hurtful words. Many in the “media” claim that even with Vitiligo Michael would not have naturally turned so completely white. Well, I can verify that it is very possible. My Vitiligo started with me being mostly tan colored with white patches and spots, and gradually progressed to my appearing mostly white with tan spots to now being almost completely white except for a very few tiny tan spots.

Not only is a morphing appearance unavoidable with Vitiligo, but it is inevitable. Now that the antibodies have finished with my skin, they are starting on my hair. I have huge white patches in my hair, eyebrows and eyelashes. It is a cruel joke that the hair on my legs remains as dark as ever which looks even worse against the stark white skin! I can’t throw out that razor yet. And I now get stares and lots of questions about my hair.

This Has Always Been An Interesting Photo To Me Because It Shows Exactly How Totally Devoid Of Pigment Michael’s Skin Was-And Why A Little Help (Via Cosmetics and Tattooing) Was Often Necessary

Most people actually think I just have beautiful white skin now. I am sure Michael could have experienced a similar evolution of his appearance. He reportedly used the depigmentation therapy to help even out his skin color so he would not have to wear so much makeup. It is all so easy to understand if people were only not so quick to make hateful judgments or believe everything the tabloid media spews about celebrities.

I wish I could have understood better what Michael Jackson went through while he was still with us. I regret not letting Michael know in some way that I understood at least in part what he went through dealing with this disease. I regret not speaking up more then. I have now become a major defender of Michael Jackson promising myself that I will not let hateful words stand! I think too and I sincerely hope, that I have become more accepting of people’s differences because of my own personal struggles with appearance and acceptance. I try really hard to not make judgments about people without learning more about them. Without the challenge of Vitiligo in my life, and my connection to Michael Jackson I might not have that understanding; I might be a different person. Vitiligo and Michael Jackson taught me about compassion.

http://www.voiceseducation.org/content/case-study-white-new-fallen-snow

UPDATE: Here is some additional info from The National Vitiligo Foundation that Joyce passed along to me. I am sorry I was not able to post it in time for the 25th, but you can still access their website, read the information, and sign the petiton to make June 25th a world recognized holiday for vitiligo awareness.

World Vitiligo Day!

The National Vitiligo Foundation is joining hands with vitiligo foundations worldwide to celebrate World Vitiligo Day on June 25th. The goal of World Vitiligo Day is to raise awareness of vitiligo worldwide. There is a petition being circulated to secure this date as an official holiday. Help make history, we urge you to sign it today! You can find more information on the World Vitiligo Day website
25june.org.

In the US, we will be honoring the holiday by having some of our vitiligo experts answer questions on vitiligo to be posted on our website. Have a burning question? Send them our way! The National Vitiligo Foundation wants to answer your biggest questions on vitiligo. You can send questions to info@nvfi.org or post them on our facebook page then join us on June 25th hear the expert answers to your most pressing questions. Visit our website for more information www.nvfi.org

– The National Vitiligo Foundation Team

UPDATE: 7/15/12: Here is a great article on World Vitiligo Day!

World Vitiligo Day 2012 bonds Michael Jackson with Fox 2’s Lee Thomas

It’s time for the truth to be told.

The truth about Michael is coming out June 25, the third anniversary of his death – which is World Vitiligo Day.

As many of you probably already know, Fox 2’s Lee Thomas lives with Vitiligo. Raising awareness – and reaching out to people around the world who live with the disease – has been a daily mission for Lee. He even produced an award-winning documentary on his experience.

Lee also published a book titled, “Turning White: A Memoir of Change.” You can purchase the book on Amazon by clicking on this link: http://www.amazon.com

Monday on The Nine, Lee, Kam and Jason talked about the story Michael Jackson never told. The most famous entertainer in the world suffered from a disease called Vitiligo. And even after his death it’s still one of the most misunderstood things about the king of pop. Vitiligo is a skin disorder that robs the body of it’s pigment. It’s the reason the most famous man on the planet went from black to white.

And Mr. Jackson was not alone. Well over 100 million people from all over the world suffer from this disease. It affects all nationalities, ages and genders, every level of social strata. One can find them in schools, hospitals, on TV and movies screens, sport arenas, and churches, while many went into seclusion and voluntary isolation from society.

Vitiligo is an acquired disease characterized by progressing skin depigmentation, due to destruction or malfunction of melanocytes, cells that produce melanin. It is present worldwide, and its prevalence in different countries ranges from less than 0.1% to more than 8% of general population (~1% in the United States and in Europe), while many cases go unreported due to the current dermatology practice.

Although viii daily has destroyed the lives of millions of individuals since recorded history, predominantly in the developing world, there is no cure in sight. Few diseases give rise to more fear and loathing than viii, especially in dark-skinned people, in whom it can be strikingly prominent. And because it is not contagious or life-threatening, patients often receive no support from national healthcare systems or insurance companies whatsoever.

The World Vitiligo Day is a public initiative aimed at building global awareness about viii. Its ambitious goal is to raise 500,000 signatures to address the United Nations in order to recognize this neglected and debilitating disease. The choice of this particular day is a memorial to the popular artist Michael Jackson, who suffered from viii since 1986 until his death, occurred on June 25, 2009.

This idea was first nursed by Steve Haragadon, the founder of the Vitiligo Friends network, and further developed by Ogo Maduewesi, the founder of the Vitiligo Support and Awareness Foundation (VITSAF) from Nigeria. In early 2012, VR Foundation, a non-profit organization squarely focused on viii research, has joined the group to boost and to coordinate this mass-collaboration campaign. All activities are now united on the web site 25June.org.

Who is the VR Foundation?

Firmly committed to curing Vitiligo, the VR Foundation is a US-based philanthropic organization funding and fast-tracking medical research across the biomedical spectrum. With bio-IT tools, it provides a collaborative an environment to bridge the gap between scientific frontiers and the patients who need treatment. The VRF has recently joined a group of biotech companies that are bypassing traditional mass-market cosmetic and orphan drug development indications to expedite product development.

http://www.myfoxdetroit.com/story/18871413/world-vitiligo-day-2012-bonds-michael-jackson-with-fox-2s-lee-thomas

26 thoughts on “White As New Fallen Snow: How Vitiligo And Michael Taught Me Compassion, by Joyce Frame”

  1. Heartbreaking – what a wonderful article and how wonderful to know that this lady is now one of Michael’s staunchest defenders. Bless you and I’m sorry for your pain but so grateful that you are sharing your experience and your knowledge with us all who can only imagine what it must be like. Bless you and thank you again.

  2. Thanks for sharing my story Raven and for the wonderful addition of images of Michael that you placed so pefectly throughout!
    I hope it will help answer some of the questions that a lot of people have about Vitiligo.
    I also wanted to share an excerpt from an article that was posted on CNNHealth in July of 2009. So many people often question why Michael didn’t reach out to the Vitiligo Community for information or to offer his help. In part of this article Dr.Nordlund, who does a lot of research with Vitiligo and is on the Board of the National Vitiligo Foundation (NVF)was interviewed. Here is that part of the article:

    —————————————————————-
    “The problem with vitiligo is, you end up with two colors,” said Nordlund, a board member with the National Vitiligo Foundation. “Everyone stares, wonders what’s going on, and people ask if you had a burn. Kids ask what’s wrong with you. It takes a tough soul to deal with that and not be affected.”

    He recalled one patient, an African-American woman with vitiligo who had patches across her hands and face. When she shopped in the grocery store, she would be followed, and every bit of produce and item she touched would be thrown away, he said.

    If treatment to restore the patient’s natural color fails and the majority of a person’s body is discolored, the next option is to lighten his or her skin to match the spots.
    “People want to be their own color,” Nordlund said. “Most of the time, they want to be their own color, but if they can’t, the second best is, ‘Look, I’ll be one color, and I’ll be white.’ ”

    Nordlund never treated Jackson but said the singer’s use of the gloves and lipstick was consistent with the patterns of vitiligo, since the spots frequently first appear on the hands and face, including the lips. He said Jackson’s representatives once reached out to several dermatologists, including him, to hold a symposium on vitiligo at the Neverland Ranch, but those plans never materialized.
    ——————————————————————–

    Here is the link to the entire article. Keep in mind that this article is from July 2009 so there is a some of the usual B.S., speculation and negative references in the rest of the article.

    http://www.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/07/06…olor.vitiligo/

    I think it is so unfortunate that this never happened, most likely due to all the cruel media driven madness that Michael faced from 1993 on! I can only think that it would have done so much to change peoples misconceptions about Michael. Of course the media probably would have found some way to spin it in a negative light.

    Thanks again Raven!

    1. I’ve heard about that planned symposium. Really wish it would have come to pass.

      Thank you again for allowing me to share your story.

  3. We’re so grateful to you, Joyce, for telling your story for Voices in Education Project. Undoubtedly you identify with the ridicule and painful judgment that Michael Jackson endured. Today, there was a very good article by a gentlman named Ben Arogundade about Beyonce, dealing with her rumored skin bleaching. Thankfully, Ben is truthful and sympathetic to Michael’s struggle with vitiligo. If you’ve not already done so, consider leaving a positive comment. Bless you, Joyce. You’re a beautiful person and I hope to meet you one day.

    Thanks again, Raven! I marvel at th way you find the time to bring us such good stuff! The pic of Michael with his jacket just off his shoulder is dreamy. There’s such an irrisistable sweetness in his beautiful eyes!

    Here’s the link to the HuffPost article:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ben-arogundade/beyonce-skin-lightening_b_1600428.html?utm_hp_ref=tw

    1. I’ve also been sharing this MUST read article on Twitter and have gotten a lot of re-tweets!!!!! So glad to see that!!! Although I’ve been Tweeting primarily to Michael’s fans I hope that as many people as possible will pass it forward to those that aren’t fans on whatever level and only now about Michael’s skin issues through years of distorted mainstream media reporting.

      1. Thanks again to you and everyone who is passing this along! I’ve noticed the hits for this one piece have been astounding over the last couple of days, with a huge bulwark of them coming directly via Twitter! Keep up the good work, guys!

  4. This is beautiful and thank you so much for sharing. I cannot comprehend what it feels like to have this heartbreaking disease and I feel bad for every person who does. I think if Michael were still alive and he knew about you, he would feel a lot better. As for the hateful things said to you and Michael as well, I say screw them. They don’t know what it’s like. But after reading this story, I understand a little bit better. As I look at the pictures of Michael, I begin to see better what it was like for him. Thank you so so much for sharing. God bless.
    “It’s all for L.O.V.E.”

    1. Thank you again to Raven and everyone for sharing my story. If we can educate and change the mind of one person who had their doubts about Michael’s struggle with Vitiligo, then maybe they will also be motivated to really look into all the other misinformation and lies about Michael that continue to be spread and the Truth will finally start to win out! I don’t do Twitter but I do appreciate the truth being told in any forum!

  5. Pingback: Vitiligo Charity
  6. Thank so much for this article, it’s been a while since you posted it. I too, have it and it just started 3 mos ago. Atleast I know better what to expect. =)

  7. Thank you. I laughed out loud when I got to the part about sunblock. I thought I single handedly kept them in business. I am a 39 year old white woman with vitiligo. At this point I’ve had this for over 15 year and am more unit meted than pigmented. It still amazes me the stares I get and the stupid comments. Yes, I am pale. It is because I gave a condition. No, I will not be darker when I come back from vacation. Actually, that’s a lie. The two inch circles on my arms are quite dark now. Thank you for letting me feel a part of the community.

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