Terri Eggeman, 55, had battled eczema for years. But in March 2008, her dermatologist took one look at her itchy skin, which was becoming increasingly resistant to treatment, and said, “I don’t think we’re dealing with eczema anymore.”
A biopsy confirmed the doctor’s suspicions: psoriasis, an autoimmune condition that causes the skin cells to regenerate at a rapid rate. A subsequent work-up at a rheumatologist’s revealed that Terri also suffered from psoriatic arthritis, which can cause debilitating joint pain.
“I was totally overwhelmed, thinking, ‘I’m going to deal with this for the rest of my life,’” she says.
A nurse at a busy pediatric ambulatory center, Terri tried to approach her new diagnosis academically. “I had a lot of questions for my doctors, and we sat down and came up with a treatment plan,” she says. But she was still hungry for wisdom from other psoriasis sufferers. As luck would have it, the National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF) held their annual conference near her home in Tampa, Fla., later that year.
“It was so amazing to go to the conference and be around people who were so knowledgeable, so hopeful about research and treatment—and to talk to people who had been dealing with this for years,” she says. She’s remained active with the NPF ever since, from participating in the One-to-One mentor program to advocating for research on Capitol Hill.
At first, Terri’s psoriasis, which covered about 20 percent of her body, was treatable with topical creams. But as many patients do, she found she needed a stronger course of treatment as the years went on. Now she takes a weekly dose of methotrexate, supplemented with biologics, a class of targeted immunosuppressants that has brought many patients unprecedented relief. But as exciting as they are, biologics aren’t without risk, something the medical professional side of her knew all too well.
“It’s terrifying to read the literature about the side effects, and I did worry about immunosuppressant effect,” she says. “But I also understand that every side effect has to be documented. I’m careful about handwashing and protecting myself from germs, and I really have not had a problem.”
Terri has also made as many lifestyle changes as possible. She’s learned that more processed, sugary foods tend to make her psoriasis flare up, so she avoids them as much as she can. She’s also discovered how best to pamper her skin after years of trial and error.
“I soak pretty much every day, and as soon as I step out of the shower or bath, I moisturize,” she says. “I like Cetaphil in the jar. It’s thick—almost like a paste.”
Such tips and tricks are things Terri is happy to share with her NPF mentees. “Often you have weird question about psoriasis that you wouldn’t necessarily ask your doctor—things like, ‘What do I do if a cashier is staring at my skin? Should I say something?’” Terri says. “The mentoring program has been wonderful in that way. And sometimes patients just need to hear that it will get better.”
Four years after her diagnosis, Terri still has days when she needs a little encouragement herself. “I have to remind myself that psoriasis doesn’t define me,” she says. “It’s something I’m going to work with every day, and some days I’m going to work a little harder at it. But I have not let it stop me from doing what I want to do.”