Being open and honest is the key, say Diane and Alvin Talbert. Her psoriasis is a nonissue in their long-standing marriage.
On Diane Talbert's first date with her husband Alvin, psoriasis covered nearly 90 percent of her body. She decided to talk openly with him about her condition. "I didn't know what she was talking about," Alvin admits. "I'd never seen anyone with it or heard of it. But I also knew on that first date that she'd be my wife, with or without psoriasis."
Today, 15 years later, the Temple Hills, Md., couple, both 52, are happily married, and Alvin remains her number-one advocate and supporter.
In a 2008 National Psoriasis Foundation survey, 35 percent of the respondents said they limited dating or intimate interactions because of their psoriasis. Besides other burdens of the disease—such as feeling self-conscious or embarrassed—having to "break the news" about psoriasis at the start of a relationship can be daunting. The key to their long-standing relationship, say the Talberts, is open, honest communication.
Be direct about it as early as possible, says Diane, who has lived with psoriasis for 46 years and developed psoriatic arthritis 20 years ago. "Communicate with your spouse or significant other. If you don't let them know how you feel, they will never know. My husband always asks what he can do to help. There is nothing that will make it go away, but just knowing that he cares helps a lot."
Since the earliest days of their relationship, Alvin has been at Diane's side. He helped apply oily moisturizers. He attended all of her doctor visits, asking questions and making sure he could help with her treatments. Sometimes, he just let her vent her frustrations.
"When we found out her medication would cost $4,500 a month, I didn't want her to have to worry about how to get it," Alvin says. "We both contacted the insurance company and with the help of her doctors, she gets her medication. (We) pay $400 a month, but it is worth every penny to see her clear, pain-free and happy."
Several times throughout their marriage, Diane has experienced erythrodermic psoriasis, an extremely severe and painful form of the disease. The first time it occurred, psoriasis covered 95 percent of her body. A diagnosis of "the worst psoriasis she'd ever seen" from their dermatologist prompted Diane and Alvin to research the condition online. They found the National Psoriasis Foundation and connected with the psoriasis community.
Alvin took a two-week leave of absence from his job to help Diane because she was in so much pain that she could barely walk. "It made me feel good to be there for the one person who means the world to me," Alvin says.
The Talberts have been open about psoriasis with their whole family. They have six grandchildren, all of whom know about psoriasis. One of them wants to be a dermatologist so she can help find a cure for the disease.
Diane and Alvin joke that they are never seen without each other—they go everywhere together. Both lead a Washington, D.C.-area psoriasis support network and attend National Psoriasis Foundation conferences and seminars together. Alvin distributes materials about upcoming psoriasis-related events to hospitals and doctors' offices.
The couple say they have made psoriasis a nonissue in their lives. "Alvin has never once been ashamed of my psoriasis," Diane says. "I used to be ashamed. Alvin told me not to worry about what the outside world thinks."