“Nothing is wasted” I heard this from a T.D. Jakes sermon. It basically means that no matter what suffering you’re going through it won’t be wasted…it will be used in some way for your best benefit. It will make you a stronger, wiser, more resilient person who will be more appreciative for the little things in life. You can even use your pain and experience to help others. This saying held true & gave me faith through my healing process (and still does till this day), it kept me going and looking towards the future and how I can use my experience in some way.
1.When did you start using topical steroids? And why?
10 months old. At around 7 months old my parents noticed that I had spots of a skin rash, I was really itchy and the doctors told them to use over the counter creams to keep the symptoms at bay. When they noticed it was getting worse, to the point of wrapping my arms in gauze to prevent me from scratching my skin to bleeding, they took me to a dermatologist and they prescribed me topical steroids.
2. What was the name of the topical steroid?
.025% kenalog (triamcinolone ) cream
3. Were you ever prescribed more potent steroids?
Yes, higher potencies of triamcinolone (the main steroid I used for 26 years of TS use) as well as Desonide for my face, a mixture of steroids and lubriderm, and steroid shots of (I believe) triamcinolone in my hands and feet.
4. How did you find out about RSS?
I didn’t know there was a name for it until I found itsan.org. I had been withdrawing from the topical steroids for a little while already just because I was fed up of being sick and looking into natural remedies to heal my skin. I had found eczema-natural-healing.com and followed the woman, Donia’s story and how she stopped using the creams (and worked on cleansing and diet) and healed her skin. I took the same approach she did and I believe it was months later I found out about itsan.org and that there were doctors who had a name for it: RSS and TSA (topical steroid addiction) and were promoting cessation of steroids to heal the skin.
Following Donia’s approach inspired me to share my own story on my blog eczemaholistichealing.wordpress.com and help others just as she has! I receive many emails from all over the world from eczema warriors and I assist them with advice with diet, supplements and essential oils. I also truly believe that my overuse of topical steroids for 26 years led me to have cancer: stage 3 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2008. This overuse of topical steroids has also lead me to have Keratoconus in both of my eyes (but worse in my right) which I will have to have treatment for soon to correct the misshaping of my cornea and poor vision.
5. What made you feel you had RSS?
All of the symptoms matched up to mine. I’m darker skinned but you can still see redness in my tone. I could never go a day without using some form of topical steroid on my skin, I was constantly itchy, if I would stop using the medication at any point in time my skin would revolt and flare up.
6. Were you diagnosed by a doctor? Did you have a supportive doctor?
When I found out about taking the steps to naturally heal my eczema I knew that no doctor would understand so I just grinned and bared it by myself. I did have a dermatologist at Duke University Hospital that I had before I started TSW (and whom I’d get prescriptions from). When I scheduled an appointment to see her and tell her about what I was going to do as far as cessation of the medications and taking a holistic approach, she flat out told me “well there is nothing we can do for you here, I prescribe medication, so… sorry.” She had no alternative treatments for me, no information about diet or any info on how it truly is possible to be addicted to topical steroids. I even believe that she had said “there’s no cure for eczema“. I still plan on one day showing up and showing her how I got through this and how I’m much better off than I ever was on any cream she wanted to prescribe me! The only doctor who supported me was my oncologist at Duke University. I even showed him horrific photos of the beginning stages of my TSW and he was so impressed by how far I had come (6 months in) and he praised me for taking such control of my health and choosing this route of healing. He even offered info for a holistic doctors that he knew, but I couldn’t afford it.
7. What were your first symptoms?
Hot red skin, raised bumps, intense itch, hot and cold feverish symptoms then came the ooze… the dreaded ooze with huge cracks in my skin. My legs and especially my feet looked like I had a flesh eating disease because the skin was so raw, open, bloody and oozy. The pain and leg spasms were insane, like ants crawling UNDER the skin, and tingles like pins and needles. Showering gave me anxiety as the water stung and burned like crazy, I ended up going months without showering and just washing up not only because of the pain but also because getting my raw legs and feet wet just made it worse.
8. Is your family supportive? Friends?
Yes, very much so. I’m so thankful for my mother for physically taking care of me for so long and for both of my parents for helping me out financially. My parents both felt so terrible and guilty that because of taking me to the dermatologists to use these meds all of this time had got me in this situation.
Just like thousands of parents just wanting to see their child better, they did the best that they knew how and what they thought was right, to take me to the doctor. My mother and grandma would always pray with me and encourage me to keep my faith, let me know that God is always in control and this suffering won’t be in vain. My friends were super supportive and so kind throughout all of my health issues. They never made me feel like an outcast, always encouraged me and spoke healing into me. Still to this day they tell me how much they admire my strength of all that I’ve been through. Hearing those words from them always keep me going.
9. Have you ever been to a hospital for this? Why?
I have never gone to a hospital for TSW as I already knew doctors wouldn’t understand and just want to give me steroids, antibiotics and pain meds. I also couldn’t afford to pay out of pocket for a holistic doctor or naturopath. The one time I went to a clinic for a signed doctors note to excuse me from work, the doctor looked at me as if I was a fool and flat out said that what I was doing “clearly wasn’t working” and I needed to immediately get back on the steroids.
10. What has been the hardest part of this condition?
Symptomatically the ooze for sure… the smell of it is so awful, the icky sticky feeling it leaves on your skin and when it sticks to your clothes is aggravating, the way it crusts and hardens and itches is maddening. With all of that I know that the symptoms are good things, they show that the body is cleansing properly and getting all of that gross toxic metabolic waste out, by any means necessary. Emotionally and mentally would be holding on to the faith and hope that this will end someday, and digging deep to continue fighting. Just not giving up and giving in to suicidal thoughts that would plague my mind from time to time.
11. How long have you been in withdrawal?
Since March 2012. I still cannot believe that I will be 5 years topical steroid free in March 2017! I can honestly say that I’m about 90%-95% healed, with just some irritation still from my knees down. My legs are just flaky and itchy at times and my feet are the same but with small areas that can get ever so slightly oozy. I’ve been able to comfortably wear socks and sneakers more recently, which is a huge milestone! Some days I have to just wear sandals (thank goodness I’m in Florida lol). I just have discolouration and wrinkling that is really left to repair, but no intense symptoms like the years before thank God!
12. What do you use as comfort measures during this?
Always reminding myself that “this is temporary” also that, “this pain and struggle will take a fraction of your life to endure and heal”. Lots of prayer and listening to uplifting sermons and gospel music. Reading positive, inspirational books. Crying instead of holding it all in. Crying on the phone to my mom and hearing her encouraging words. Listening to dance music, watching lots of movies and getting crafty. Constantly staying educated about detoxification & healing with food and natural remedies. Seeing my friends and laughing my booty off. And always, always having gratitude, even when I was in the deepest darkest hole I gave thanks to God because I knew the the only way out was to battle through it and that each passing day was one day more without topical steroids… one step closer to full healing. I always tell my readers to give thanks for the good and bad, the breakthroughs and setbacks, because the body doesn’t take overnight to heal because it didn’t take overnight to accumulate toxicity… it will take time and to always trust its natural ability to heal. Have gratitude for the pain because it shows that your body is properly cleansing and that you are becoming the healthiest version of yourself, free from the dependency of topical steroids!
13. Are you employed? Has this affected your job status?
I’m currently looking for work, but with my eczemaholistichealing.wordpress.com site I make a small income from the supplements and essential oils that I use and recommend (feel free to reach out for more info: firstname.lastname@example.org). I was able to work retail for 1/2 a year, but a TSW flare brought me to quit my job as it affected my legs and feet, making it impossible to put on shoes and stand for any long length of time.
14. Have you gone to therapy/wish to go to therapy because of this condition?
I have not, and I would’ve benefited from it for sure in the darkest of times. I found my therapy to be connecting with others through support groups as they knew the struggle first hand and we could all encourage one another, even if it was via the web. I found it amazing at how many people all over the world were suffering and feeling the exact same horrific symptoms as I was, especially when in the very early stages I felt like I was completely alone. It’s also wonderful to see so many doing much better and enjoying life to the fullest!
15. If there is one thing you could say to another sufferer, what would it be?
Don’t ever give up, you are a warrior and this pain and suffering you are feeling is temporary… it is literally a fraction of your life dedicated to repairing. It may seem like it’s dragging on forever but it WILL end, the body is so amazing at self healing! Always keep the faith and always have gratitude. Treat your body like the temple that it is with healing foods, lots of rest, exercise and loving thoughts. Focus on the future and the amazing things that you will do when you’re body is healthier, how you will live life fully, be more compassionate to others, share your story to encourage others and be of service in any way you can. Remember that this isn’t “happening to you” but it’s “happening FOR you” to be the healthiest version of you! Continuing the steroids for years and years would’ve only increased the toxicity in the body, and would’ve led to other health issues like myself with cancer and now Kerataconus. TSW is a huge battle to endure and embarking on it is the bravest thing you can do, commend yourself and keep on fighting!
Thank you so much, Jen, for this phenomenal interview!