By Kaleigh Wan, as told to Alexandra Benisek
I’m a 26-year-old firefighter and advanced EMT from Fayetteville, GA. When I was in ninth grade, I discovered that I had psoriasis.
One day, I was playing lacrosse and I noticed the back of my head was really itchy. I honestly thought it was a fungal infection or something similar because I was wearing a helmet. I had no other signs, no flaking or anything. Just itching.
I went to the dermatologist, which ended up being a little difficult. They test you for a bunch of other things before psoriasis. But after they ran all the tests, I was diagnosed with psoriasis. Since then, I’ve pretty much tried every treatment under the sun.
At first, I tried shampoo. And then I went to topical treatments. Then, I tried an oral medication and eventually light therapy. After all of these, I tried biologics. I started secukinumab (Cosentyx) in 2015, right around my sophomore year of college.
The Pros and Cons of Biologics
I honestly really like using biologics. I feel like they’re easier to remember to take because I only have to take mine once a month instead of every day.
But they can be a little stressful at first. It’s tough to get used to the concept of having to inject yourself or having family help you with the injection. But for me, it was a bit easier because I was already in the health care field. But I will say, having someone to remind you is really helpful.
My Family Plays a Big Role
I take my biologics right before bed. I shower, do my nighttime routine, and then get into bed and take them. This helps me relax because when I first started, I got super anxious before I had to take them. But doing this has helped me create a routine. And then after I do them, I’m able to go straight to sleep. This helps me avoid side effects or anything like that.
Another big thing is support. My parents learned how to do the shots. So when I was really anxious at first, they would do it for me until I got comfortable with it.
Having people that are willing to inject the medication for you or remind you is so helpful. I was really bad at taking medication and would always forget. This would lead to my symptoms getting worse. For a while, it was almost debilitating.
But having that support to encourage me to take my medication kept me on track. Even a simple compliment from my support team kept me motivated. Comments like “Hey, your skin looks really good” or “It looks even better than last time” are the best things to hear.
Having multiple people involved is really helpful. My mom will text me and say, “Have you taken your medication?” It’s important to have someone keep you on track. And it actually pushes you to take the injections.
Community Support Empowers Me
A lot of the biologics also have support groups that will send out text messages or reminders when your shot is coming up. The medication I take has a program that can help. It connects you to a pharmacist or nurse to remind you to take your treatment.
It also gives you access to chat about symptoms or other factors of the medication. It’s nice to hear about other people’s side effects and experiences. It allows you to feel seen and heard.
Facebook is another great place to find support groups. One day, I just googled different groups for psoriasis and found that they have ones for specific medications.
Support and motivation from these outlets makes you want to get better. And because of this, they lead to a better outcome. It’s important to hear words of affirmation that treatment is working. But sometimes you need to talk about how it does take time and is frustrating.
A lot of it for me is just understanding what psoriasis is. Because, yes, a lot of psoriasis is seen. But there’s also the unseen side. Having a support group that understands this and is willing to research and look into other factors of psoriasis helps.
These groups also provide me with information on diet and different skin products. That can be really useful and it shows that there’s a lot of love and support out there.
My Advice for Starting Biologics
If you’re thinking about trying biologics for psoriasis for the first time, it can definitely be nerve racking. A lot of people don’t like needles. And especially with this treatment, you probably don’t look forward to injecting yourself.
Not only that, but for people with psoriasis, we want to look good, and we want to feel good too. And all of that is difficult when we don’t feel like everyone else.
But having someone that’s willing to learn and to be there with you can make a huge difference, even if they just offer you moral support during treatment. Because it’s not like we enjoy sticking ourselves. So just having someone that’s there for support, or to understand, or to monitor, or even to just ask questions and get involved really helps.
If I could tell you one thing as you start the process with biologics, it’s to just trust the process. Because it does take a second. It’s not a one-shot, fix-all type of thing. It does take a little while. But I know that simply having someone say, “Hey, it’s OK. It’s gonna work out” is really helpful.