Rachel English of Tucson, Arizona, was 15 in 1985 when she was diagnosed with psoriasis. By her senior year in high school, psoriasis had cost English her place on the cheerleading team and contributed flakes to her prom dress.
Fast forward to 2009. As English entered her 40s, she not only had to cope with psoriasis, she had to handle something new: psoriatic arthritis (PsA). Since then, she has found ways to adjust to her new reality. She’s also had a little help from the National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF).
The Bygone Days of Treatment
“I had a dermatologist I saw in the ’80s who diagnosed it as psoriasis. But all he could say was, ‘Here’s some ointments, here’s some creams,’” English remembers. “They made a mess of everything. They were really expensive, and my family didn’t have a lot of money.
“I learned to live with it,” she says. “I didn’t go to a dermatologist for years because I got tired of all the creams that did absolutely nothing.”
About 10 years ago, English went through what she calls “my big flare-up.” She was covered head to toe with plaques and was starting to develop pain in her joints. She decided she couldn’t just learn to live with it anymore. She found NPF through a Google search, and through information on the site, English quickly located a Tucson dermatologist who specialized in psoriasis.
“I was really happy to find him. And that’s where I found out that the pain I have is related to this disease as well,” she says. Her dermatologist told her she had PsA and started her on a systemic. (English has since added a rheumatologist to her health care team.) She’s currently on a biologic and a systemic.
With her treatment came a cost. Her doctors all cautioned her that the combination of her psoriatic disease medications might work to weaken her immune system. English has found that being in crowds means she gets sick a lot.
“I am one of those people who seems to pick up germs easily,” she laments. “Anytime I was out in public, I got sick. Since I’ve started working at home and avoiding crowds, I’ve been sick less and have actually been able to use PTO for an actual vacation this year.”
Redirecting Her Life’s Path
Twelve years ago, English was finishing her MBA. “I had lofty career goals. I was on track to be a finance manager, a director of some sort, a CFO or CEO. Then I started getting sick all the time,” she says. “It’s only been in the last six months that I’ve realized that I can’t achieve [those goals] anymore. They’re just too difficult. PsA needs to be my priority over my career. Realizing that and coming to terms with that has been the hardest thing.”
English had to set a new course, but she hasn’t lost her old ambition. She feels “blessed” with her current job, she says, working from home as a senior systems analyst for her employer’s payroll department. This saves her the trouble of getting up, getting ready and driving to an office – an ordeal that used to leave her exhausted. She needs to conserve her energy because her husband is disabled and she is the sole support for their household. “Some days I don’t have a choice. I have to push through the pain and the fatigue,” she says.
English has a new goal: speaking out. She wants to start a blog about living with PsA, because it is one of those diseases where you feel all alone, she says. “If you have lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, people know what they are, there’s a big community out there for it. But if you say ‘psoriatic arthritis,’ they say, ‘So?’ They have no idea! It’s not just joint pain. You can’t just treat and then you go on. It’s life changing,” she says.