Your high school prom is for celebrating graduation with your friends, saying goodbye to childhood and wearing a one-of-a-kind dress.
Try doing any of that with a strange “rash” on your neck.
In April 2016, high school senior Kate Henderson of Kirkland, Washington, was thinking ahead to her prom when what she calls “the chaos” began: a raised, red and itchy patch.
Her doctors were stumped. They gave her shampoos that didn’t help. She went to a local urgent care clinic. “The doctor decided it was nothing serious – either a bacterial or fungal infection that would go away with the right medicines,” Henderson says. She came home with more shampoos and lotions. When she applied them, the mystery rash spread all over her head.
On prom night, she had to wear her hair down to hide the chaos because “I was too embarrassed to have my entire senior class see.”
That summer the alleged rash spread to her forehead and her face. She went back to her dermatologist, who prescribed an antibiotic and three topicals to help relieve her pain and discomfort. “She took psoriasis off the table because [my skin] didn’t look scaly,” Henderson says.
College was only a few weeks away and she still had no diagnosis. “Doctors told me it looked like severe dandruff and that I just needed to use coal tar shampoos, which gave me no relief,” she says.
Before the red patches appeared, Henderson had thick, blonde, curly hair. Now she noticed that her hair was breaking and thinning. She estimates she lost 50 percent of her hair in her freshman year. She spent 30 minutes every morning picking flakes off the back of her head so people wouldn’t ask questions or assume she had dandruff.
“I noticed more and more hair coming out whenever I showered. I didn’t want to go out, I didn’t want anyone to see me,” she says. “I have always been known for my hair so having something so big being taken away from me was absolutely crushing,” she says.
With no diagnosis and armed only with what she’d learned from the internet, Henderson stopped using all of her hair products, thinking she might be allergic to something. She tried a naturopath. She went on a gluten-free diet and took 12 supplements a day. “I literally questioned every choice in my life, from beauty products to laundry detergent,” she says.
When Henderson went home for Christmas in 2017, her mother suggested that she look into wigs or hairpieces, but she also took photos of her daughter’s skin and sent them to her friends to ask if they had ever seen anything like it. One of these friends was a neighbor who worked for a drug company. He recommended a new dermatologist.
“The dermatologist looked at me and said, ‘That’s one of the worst cases of psoriasis I’ve ever seen,’ ” she recalls. “I cannot even describe my happiness. Now I knew what to do and what steps to take.”
Henderson’s dermatologist talked with her and her parents about treatment options and the possible side effects. “Being a young woman who would like to have children one day, I was pretty frightened of some of the side effects,” she says. “But I needed something that would work and help me see some relief.” In April 2017, a year since the symptoms appeared, Henderson and her dermatologist decided to try a biologic.
Biologics are the most powerful weapons we have in the fight against psoriatic disease, but the trick is to find the biologic that works for you. Henderson says her first biologic only worked for a short while. She worked with her dermatologist to get it right, and the third biologic stuck.
Henderson, now in her sophomore year, is finally enjoying college. Her hair is growing back. She estimates she’s 95 percent clear. She still occasionally flares due to stress, illness or a change in her environment, but all of her symptoms have improved drastically. She’s not the same person she was on prom night – she’s more confident and optimistic.
Kate Henderson today
“Psoriasis has made me stronger as a person, knowing that I can get though anything with the strength inside of me as well as the help from my friends and family,” she says. “If I can tell my story and help someone, I’m doing good.”
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