An Invercargill woman who has faced many years of bullying because of her rare facial condition has revealed how she met the love of her life.

Christine Brown was diagnosed with neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1) after noticeable spots began to appear on her face at the age of 5.

The right side of her face used to droop under the weight of the tumours which caused disfiguration of her face.

Her childhood was horrific, with bullies kicking her, spitting in her face, pulling her hair and locking her in cupboards.

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However, at 21 her life changed for the better when she met her now husband Lee Brown, 56, on a radio matchmaking segment.

Speaking to That's Life magazine, she revealed how the couple were matched together on a blind date by the radio station.

Brown's friends urged her to phone the station when they heard about the matchmaking segment on the radio.

Despite feeling shy and insecure, she phoned in and told the listeners about her "facial difference" and that she enjoyed cooking.

Much to her surprise, two potential suitors responded.

Christine Brown was born with neurofibromatosis and had multiple tumours grow on her face. Photo / Christine Brown
Christine Brown was born with neurofibromatosis and had multiple tumours grow on her face. Photo / Christine Brown

"My first date admitted he wanted a visa marriage. But the second date, at an ice rink, became the love of my life," she said.

Christine Brown after her 19th facial reconstructive surgery. Photo / Christine Brown
Christine Brown after her 19th facial reconstructive surgery. Photo / Christine Brown

"I don't care what you look like ... You're beautiful to me," Brown recalled what her now-husband of 33 years said to her when they first met.

The couple got married in 1992 and had three children - Janina, 31, Cohen 25, and Farrin, 18. Her son Cohen has inherited the condition.

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Janina also has two daughters that Brown helps raise.

After giving birth to third child Farrin, Brown received a rude remark by another shopper at the supermarket.

"Are you sure you've got the right baby? She's too beautiful," the stranger said to Brown, who fired back: "I had an ugly one but I swapped her at the hospital."

Final life-changing surgery

Brown is having her 20th and final facial reconstructive surgery at Southland Hospital next Wednesday, January 30, which will take around two hours.

"Just a small nip, life tuck as I call it," Brown told the Herald.

She also shared what her goals are for the year after recovering from the surgery, which include learning how to drive, finding a part-time job and to save so her family can have a holiday.

Christine Brown's granddaughters 5 and 9. Photo / Christine Brown
Christine Brown's granddaughters 5 and 9. Photo / Christine Brown

"We have not had [a holiday] in about 14 years and never with my granddaughters, who we bring up."

Brown said she has done some public speaking, sharing her experiences with others to inspire them to love themselves. Her next speech will be after her surgery in her hometown Gore on Wednesday, February 6.

"I speak from the heart. No notes, just say it as it comes. So each talk is similar but different.

"I have made people laugh and cry. Opened minds and hearts too ... of accepting people who are different. It's about seeing the person first."

Last year in February, Brown had her 19th surgery on her face, which took seven hours, according to the Southland Times.

Brown "looks like she has gone 10 rounds with Mike Tyson", her husband said at the time.

In August 2017, Brown had her 18th facial reconstructive surgery at Dunedin Hospital.

Her husband told the Southland Times his wife would be extremely happy once she sees what surgeons have done to reconstruct her face.

The Invercargill resident underwent a 16-hour face reconstruction in a Dunedin Hospital last year. Photo / Christine Brown
The Invercargill resident underwent a 16-hour face reconstruction in a Dunedin Hospital last year. Photo / Christine Brown
A CT scan shows how much of Christine Brown's face is missing, including part of her jaw. Photo / Christine Brown
A CT scan shows how much of Christine Brown's face is missing, including part of her jaw. Photo / Christine Brown

"They have done a really, really good job, eh.

"I said to the nurse, they have done a bloody great job, a marvellous job."

Horrific childhood

In 2017, Brown told the Herald about her horrific childhood due to her facial deformity.

"School? I didn't like school. I liked being in class, but I didn't like being out of class. My safe environment was in the classroom [but outside] from then on I was bullied.

"I used to go East Gore School and this girl used to hide behind this big oak tree and used to wait for me and would pinch me and kick me and spit in my face. I've had my hair pulled ... I've been pushed over, locked in cupboards.

"I had old-fashioned bullying. I was physically and verbally attacked."

Christine Brown was bullied for most of her life because of her unusual looks and 'droopy' face.
Christine Brown was bullied for most of her life because of her unusual looks and 'droopy' face.

It got so bad that by the time she was 13, Brown thought about ending her life.

"I thought I was so over this and wanted to die. And then I thought, 'why should I let them win?' I liked life and I liked me, I didn't like what people did to me though."

Her parents knew her struggles, so did her siblings. They were bullied, too.

Brown is also a cancer survivor and defied the odds when she was given 15 months to live after a neurofibroma turned aggressively cancerous.

"I have had one turn cancerous, I've had three back ribs removed, I was given 15 months to live ... and I thought 'I don't want to die'. At the time [my son, now 24] was 3 years old.

"But guess what, I've got a 17-year-old daughter now. I try and keep myself positive because I'm not going to let the bullying take me down."