More Than Skin Deep
It’s probably nothing. That’s what 37-year-old Alison Tunney of Kanata, ON, thought when she noticed a funny spot on her elbow eight years ago. Pregnant with her first child, she chalked it up to hormones gone haywire. Then the spot grew and became red and scaly, and another one appeared on her other elbow. By the time she gave birth, the lesions had spread down her forearms. Her family doctor recommended cortisone cream, but it didn’t help much.
With Tunney’s second pregnancy – twins this time – the symptoms grew worse, so her doctor referred her to a dermatologist. She waited a year for an appointment. In the meantime, she sunk into despair and frustration as sleepless nights and stress from the double whammy of motherhood and itchy patches took their toll. “It got to the point where I’d sit in a bathtub full of cold water and cry,” she recalls. “It was to get some relief from the itching, but at times I felt like I just wanted to drown.”
Psoriasis Affected My Marriage and My Parenting
The red patches had spread to her ears and scalp, and giant sections wrapped around her torso. She was so raw that breastfeeding was excruciating, cuddling with her children was a challenge, and intimacy was impossible. “I certainly wasn’t feeling sexy, but there was also the physical discomfort of having lesions everywhere,” she says.
She tried phototherapy (a treatment in which skin is exposed to short wavelengths of UV light) for three months, but she couldn’t stand devoting so much time to clinic appointments three times a week with the twins in tow. “I was so fed up with psoriasis by then that I was more willing to be uncomfortable than to disrupt my life anymore to deal with the disease,” she explains.
Tunney was finally referred to another dermatologist, who initially remarked that he had seen worse. But she pushed for a biologic drug, given by self-injection at home, and wouldn’t take no for an answer. Usually reserved for moderate to severe disease, biologic agents are a novel therapy for psoriasis that work by targeting and blocking certain proteins in the immune system that are involved in the disease.
“My quality of life was in the toilet,” she says. “I’d find a new spot every week and, within a week, it would get bigger. I’d wake up with negative-10 patience because I was so itchy. It was affecting not only me but also my family. I told the doctor all this and begged him for help.”
Her skin started to clear up within a month. Now, she has been on the immune-modifying medication for over a year and says she’s “in a much better place.” She works out regularly, goes out with friends, wears her favourite fashions and has a much better relationship with her husband and kids.
While people often notice the outward signs of psoriasis, it’s much deeper than that. “They don’t know about the other side of psoriasis: the depression, the crumbling of relationships,” says Tunney. “Eventually, it’s not even about your skin anymore but how you feel on the inside.”