Shelley’s Story: Psoriasis Treatment Is More Than Skin-Deep

Shelley lived with severe psoriasis for her whole life until a RUSH physician listened, provided treatment and gave her hope
Shelley Messer stands in front of a window in winter.

Shelley Messer’s children may have grown up, moved out and had kids of their own, but the 62-year-old, proud grandmother’s caring instincts haven’t gone anywhere. “For fun, I watch a little girl down the street, just to have something to do. She’s 16 months old now,” Shelley says with a big smile. “My grandchildren live in North Carolina, so I needed a child fix.”

Of course, that little one is starting to move around — quickly. And while Shelley is keeping up with the tyke these days, it wasn’t long ago that moving was a painful struggle. Since she was a child, herself, Shelley has had severe psoriasis.

“I couldn’t walk on the heels of my feet. They would crack open. My feet were bleeding, and I was just miserable,” Shelley says. “It felt like I was walking on sharp little knives all the time because my skin was so sensitive and so callous and coated with psoriasis that any little step was just miserable.”

Psoriasis below the surface

Many people have heard of psoriasis and understand that it is a skin condition. “The classic form of psoriasis involves red, scaly, circular lesions, what we call plaques, that commonly affect the elbows, the knees, the scalp, but can also affect the nails and sometimes other parts of the body,” says David Reid, MD, chief of dermatology at RUSH.

But the effects of psoriasis can reach more than just the skin. Shelley, for example, also developed psoriatic arthritis, a condition that causes joint pain and made movement even more difficult for her. It appears in about a third of psoriasis patients, according to Reid. 

Psoriasis can also be associated with cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome and diabetes, not to mention the toll it can take on a person’s self-esteem and mental health, worsening conditions like depression and anxiety.

Shelley learned from an early age how the troubles that come with psoriasis go beyond skin irritation. “When kids were running around in shorts or short-sleeved shirts, I always covered up as much as I could because I didn’t want people to laugh at me or see what my body looked like. And children are very cruel. And even some adults are,” Shelley says.

A lifetime without relief

Shelley was only 10 years old when she first began treating her psoriasis. “Back then, it was the good ol’ pine tar remedy, you know. They would coat your head, and you would sit and not touch anything,” she says.

Her dermatologist couldn’t help much either. “All they did was give me an injection of cortisone in the hip and say, ‘Come back and see me when you have a flare-up.’ So, I was getting injections all the time.”

For almost her whole life, Shelley found little relief from her symptoms. As years went by and her condition worsened, she still held hope that modern treatments would catch up to her psoriasis. 

“I had seen three dermatologists in a period of five years, and they all got to the point where they told me that there was nothing further they could do for me. That I just had to learn to live with it,” Shelley says. “And I just kept thinking to myself, it’s modern medicine. There has to be something out there I can do.”

A modern approach

Shelley didn’t give up, despite the discouraging words from dermatologists who treated her in the past. She eventually came to RUSH for care, and that’s when she met Reid.

“Dr. Reid has been wonderful,” Shelley says. “He gave me options. He sat with me, we discussed things, he came up with a treatment plan that we both agreed upon, and he was just phenomenal. A doctor listened for the first time.”

Reid paid attention to Shelley’s medical history, examining what treatments she had tried in the past. He also partnered with Shelley’s rheumatologist to monitor her psoriatic arthritis and collaborate on her care. 

Since Shelley had tried many traditional medications, creams and lotions that couldn’t control her condition, Reid started her on a new type of therapy. He prescribed her medication, and within a month, Shelley saw a dramatic difference. 

‘I have my future back’

Successfully treating psoriasis, in many cases, doesn’t just mean clear skin for patients. It changes nearly all aspects of their lives. “Patients who have the ability to have skin clearance, even if psoriasis only affects a small part of their body, still feel a meaningful impact on their quality of life,” Reid says. “Their ability to go out into the world, form relationships, work in jobs and feel self-confidence is really transformative.”

For Shelley, clearing up her psoriasis also helped alleviate her joint pain from psoriatic arthritis. That meant that she could comfortably walk again — and get back to child care. “We bought our own stroller for the baby we take care of,” Shelley says. “We actually go for walks with her.”

Her treatment benefited other aspects of her physical health, as well. “I’ve lost 34 pounds just being able to move around. So, my goal this summer is to get another 30 off,” Shelley says. 

It’s also had a profound effect on her mental health. “I have goals now,” she says. “I never felt like I could have a goal before, as far as my health went, because I wasn’t able to get up and move around like I should have been. I have my hope. I have my future back. I’m not going to be this old lady sitting in a rocking chair watching life go past.”

Don’t give up

Reid continues to provide the latest therapies to Shelley and monitors her condition with follow-up visits twice a year. Most recently, he prescribed a new, steroid-free cream that she only has to apply once a day. “There's a tremendous amount of hope right now for people with psoriasis, especially in 2023 with the incredible armamentarium of therapies we have available,” he says. 

Shelley hopes that her story may encourage others who live with psoriasis to not give up on seeking treatment.

“You have to find the right doctor,” she says. “Don’t settle. If somebody tells you that there’s nothing else they can do for you, there’s always something. There has to be somebody out there for you. And for me, it was Dr. Reid.”

If you need treatment for psoriasis, call RUSH at (888) 352-7874 to schedule a visit.

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