Community Commentary: Help bring attention to oft-ignored disease

According to the National Institutes of Health, as many as 7.5 million Americans have psoriasis (National Psoriasis Foundation, 2010). Psoriasis is a common, chronic, noncontagious skin disease that causes red, scaly patches that can appear on any part of the body. It can cause the skin to itch, burn and bleed. Psoriasis on the hands or feet can prevent people from doing everyday tasks such as writing or walking (www.psoriasis.org). It’s one of the most common skin diseases in the United States yet there is great fear and ignorance about it. Psoriasis awareness needs greater attention.
I’ve struggled with psoriasis and its devastating effects since very early childhood, hurt by the whispers and stares over the years. I’ve literally been covered from head to toe with painful lesions, hospitalized more often than I care to remember. Though my “flares” have often been more extreme than they are for many, most with psoriasis have to come to terms with their disease no matter what the level of severity. Though now I’m more educated and able to appropriately address the concerns of others today, as a young girl I just felt shame and embarrassment. Living with psoriasis affected my life so dramatically that it led me to become a clinical psychologist with a special interest in health. I wrote my dissertation on coping with the emotional and physical effects of psoriasis.
I’ve been a passionate volunteer for the National Psoriasis Foundation for almost 20 years, and currently co-chair the San Diego Walk to Cure Psoriasis scheduled to take place Oct. 9 at Mission Bay Park – De Anza Cove. The Walk to Cure Psoriasis is a family-friendly, noncompetitive 1k or 5k walk. Walk funds raised will apply toward finding a cure and helping those with psoriasis find the support and education necessary to cope with such a visibly stigmatizing illness. We all hope to “cross the finish line together” and share in the knowledge that we are helping to find a cure for the millions of us here in America.
Attendees will have an opportunity to meet Stephanie Gearhart, local winner of Tim Gunn’s Addressing Psoriasis, and another local winner, Cristy Boisvert, winner of the National Psoriasis Foundation’s Volunteer of the Year Award and local support group leader. We’ve got many local winners — all those living with psoriasis and those who love and support them.
We have an eventful day planned. San Diego’s own Dan Plante from KUSI will be emceeing, and fitness guru Jackie Warner from Bravo will be leading our warmup and mingling with attendees. We have a greeting to be shared by Congresswoman Susan Davis and a proclamation by Mayor Sanders. Our activities also include free mini massages, clowns, a magician, an accordion player and entertainer, live music, our local San Diego Fire Department with a truck for kids to explore, lots of fabulous raffle prizes, vendors, and refreshments.
We’ll have a BioBank table with licensed phlebotomists on site for interested individuals to donate blood samples for our international psoriasis research tissue bank. What a wonderful gift to give! The BioBank just shipped off its first batch of 1,250 DNA samples to the University of Michigan for studying the genetics of psoriasis.
I enthusiastically invite you to come support a cause that receives very little government funding and causes significant shame and embarrassment. Registration begins at 8 a.m. and the walks begin at 9 a.m. There is no charge to register to walk. We are also looking for volunteers the day of the walk to help us set up our event and cheer people on along the walk route; a great opportunity to collect a few hours for interested students. I’m very passionate about the event as I’ve turned my own life from that of a shy wall flower to one of enthusiastic educator and advocator. I invite all readers to join us on Oct. 9 to Walk to Cure Psoriasis. For more information, visit www.psoriasis.org/sandiegowalk or call (877) 825-9255.

Dr. Vickie Dowling, PsyD, CGP lives and practices in Carlsbad.

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