Inheriting A Rare Skin Condition, And The Ability To Laugh About It

Jun 20, 2014
Originally published on June 20, 2014 8:03 am

People with vitiligo gradually lose pigment in their skin, often in patches that appear randomly and grow over time.

But that wasn't the case for Cheri Lindsay. The white pigment on her skin spread rapidly across her body and around her eyes, "like a mask," over the past four years, she says.

She imagines that she's dealt with it better than most, in part because of the example set by her father.

"It was easy for me to deal with because of seeing you deal with it," she tells her dad, Phillip Lindsay, on a visit to StoryCorps in Denver. "I've never seen you without vitiligo, and so it's like, that's normal. That's my dad."

"I have five kids, and when I had to take you guys out and about, you guys wanted to protect me," Phillip says. "Anything anyone did or said, you guys were just like, 'Hey, that's Dad. Watch yourself.'

"And so I had to ease you guys' mind and let you understand that I was OK. I didn't need the protection," he adds.

Cheri says she has had some difficult times. "I get stared at like crazy," she says. "There was a point I would avoid kids in the store. If a kid was coming down the aisle, I'm like, 'I don't need no bread' " — and she would turn around.

"But I did something one time," she recalls. "I was at Wal-Mart, and I'm walking down the aisle and this little boy — he had to be about 5 or 6 — he was just staring at me. He looked so freaked out.

"But I stopped and I said, 'You wanna know why I look like this?' And he was like, 'Yeah.' And I said, 'Because I was staring at somebody in Wal-Mart,' " she says, laughing. "And I told his mom, I was like, 'I'm just kidding with him.' "

"Well, Cheri," Phillip says, "You know, you're a very beautiful woman and you keep your head up and you just ... walk on. And I couldn't be more proud of you for the way you handle yourself, really. My chest goes out for you."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Jud Esty-Kendall.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Time again for StoryCorps, where people across the country are interviewing loved ones and adding their stories to an archive of American voices. Cheri Lindsay and her father, Phillip, have a rare skin condition. It's called vitiligo, and it causes people to gradually lose the pigment in their skin. The discoloration starts as a patch that appears randomly, and it can grow over time. The Lindsays are African-American, and Cheri's condition has spread so dramatically over the past four years that most of her face and body now appear white.

CHERI LINDSAY: It started around my eyes, and it literally grew out like a mask. And I remember calling and saying, you know, dad, my vitiligo's moving kind of fast.

PHILLIP LINDSAY: Well, I was shocked because I had asked doctors if any of my kids would have vitiligo, and they said probably not, it usually skips a generation. So when I found out that you had it, I was scared for you.

C. LINDSAY: It was easy for me to deal with because of seeing you deal with it. Like, I've never seen you without vitiligo, and so it's like, that's normal, that's my dad.

P. LINDSAY: I have five kids, and when I had to take you guys out and about, you guys wanted to protect me.

C. LINDSAY: Ready to fight (laughing).

P. LINDSAY: OK, yeah. Anything anyone did or said, you guys were just like, hey, watch yourself. And so I had to ease your guys' mind and let you understand that I was OK. I didn't need the protection.

C. LINDSAY: I know for me, I get stared at like crazy.

P. LINDSAY: Well, I know there's kids that like to touch me. How do they react to you?

C. LINDSAY: Man, there was a point I would avoid kids in the store. If a kid (laughing) was coming down the aisle, I'm like, I don't need no bread. But I did something one time. I was at Walmart and I'm walking down the aisle, and this little boy - he had to be about 5 or 6 - he was just staring at me. He looked so freaked out. But I stopped and I said, you want to know why I look like this? And he was like, yeah. I said, because I was staring at somebody in Walmart.

(LAUGHTER)

C. LINDSAY: And I told his mom, I was, like, you know, I'm just kidding with him.

P. LINDSAY: Well, Cheri, you know, you're a very beautiful woman, and you keep your head up and you just - and you walk on. And I couldn't be more proud of you for the way you handle yourself, really. My chest goes out for you.

WERTHEIMER: Phillip Lindsay and his daughter Cherie talking about the rare skin condition they share. Their conversation was recorded in Denver, Colorado, and will be archived at the Library of Congress. Get the StoryCorp podcast on iTunes and at npr.org.

WERTHEIMER: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.