Photo Credit: Isabel Esteviz
Isabel Esteviz, a mom and an accounting assistant, lives in Chicago.
When Isabel Esteviz was 5 years old, she fell down and scraped her knee. Two weeks later, the scrape still hadn’t healed and it started to look bumpy and scaly. Her doctor diagnosed her with psoriasis and said she had experienced what is known as the “Koebner phenomenon,” in which psoriasis lesions erupt in areas of injured skin a couple weeks after the injury occurs. About half of all people with psoriasis experience the Koebner phenomenon, named after a 19th century doctor who first identified the problem. For Esteviz, it was only the beginning.
Now 28, she’s still battling psoriasis. “My psoriasis spread like wildfire after that initial spot showed up,” she says. “During elementary school, it was all over my scalp, and my teachers were constantly sending me to the nurse’s office to get it checked out. They were afraid. They thought it might be lice or a cleanliness issue. They would ask me how often I took showers. As a little girl, I couldn’t understand psoriasis myself; much less explain it to someone else.”
The Roots of Compassion
As she grew up, her psoriasis spread to her thighs, torso, arms, neck, and even small spots on her nose, eyelids and forehead. Esteviz says her self-confidence dipped and her stress level soared because of the ridicule and embarrassment she endured. “In high school, gym class was a nightmare. It was awful having the other female students gawk at me or move away so they wouldn’t have to change near me because they thought I was contagious," Esteviz remembers. "Running and other exercise often hurt because my skin would crack and bleed. I cried every day for years, but I did it in silence. Nobody knew, not even my mother.
"I have a huge laundry list of people’s looks and comments from when I was growing up," Esteviz continues. "The emotional pain of psoriasis is as damaging and painful as the physical symptoms of the disease. To this day, I hate to see people being teased, especially for things they can’t control. I think psoriasis has really shaped the way I see things and other people in the world. It’s made me more empathetic and compassionate.”
Feeling Less Alone
Esteviz reached a turning point when, at age 21, her psoriasis became so severe that she had trouble getting out of bed. “I was in college and I began filling out paperwork to apply for temporary disability,” she says. “I felt like giving up on life. I felt so alone. I felt like nobody else knew what I was going through.”
Then an Internet search led her to the Web site of the National Psoriasis Foundation. Esteviz found out that the organization was about to hold a conference in her hometown of Chicago, so she signed up for it. “I was convinced that I would go to the conference and be the only one there, but when I showed up, there were over 500 people,” Esteviz recalls. “I realized that I was not alone. I learned so much about psoriasis and discovered that there was this mass community of people, more than seven million, who suffered from the same thing I did. Growing up, I sincerely thought I was the only person alive with it.”
After the conference, Esteviz returned to her dermatologist with a new knowledge of treatments and a much greater understanding of her condition, and together they worked out a treatment plan that is now working for her. “I hesitate to tell people what I use because it may not work for them,” says Esteviz. “What works for one person may not work for another, but no one should be discouraged. People with psoriasis need to work with their own dermatologists to find what works best for them, and be hopeful of medicines on the horizon.”
As for her personal life, Esteviz says that for years, her psoriasis kept her from developing really close relationships. That, too, has improved. “I was always afraid to be serious with anyone,” she says. “I was afraid that the minute I said I have psoriasis that they would take off running. Now I’ve been with the same man for five years and he’s amazing. He loves me for me and I’ve educated him about the disease and he’s participated with me in walks to raise money for psoriasis.
"We have a son," she continues. "People have asked me how I feel about having a child because I have psoriasis and it’s a genetic disease. Of course I hope he doesn’t get psoriasis, but if he does, I take comfort in knowing I’ll be able to help him along the way. By becoming educated about psoriasis, I’ve taken control over my illness. Psoriasis no longer controls me.”