So...A few weeks ago I was asked if I would like to interview LeAnn Rimes about her struggles with psoriasis and her awareness campaign Stop Hiding & Start Living. I think it's a great campaign and I was happy to help bring more awareness to this physically and emotionally debilitating skin condition. **Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune disease that is NOT contagious.
As women we so often feel bad about ourselves because of the way we look. We might be having a bad hair day, or have a bit of acne on our face, or feel like we could stand to lose a few more pounds...It's really a vicious cycle and sometimes even a pit of despair that we never seem to quite be able to climb out of. I think that's why stories like the one LeAnn Rimes will share with us in this interview are so empowering.
The American Academy of Dermatology and the National Psoriasis Foundation have joined together to form the Stop Hiding from Psoriasis public education campaign. This campaign is dedicated to:
- Educating the general public about how this chronic immune disorder affects nearly 7 million Americans.
- Motivating patients suffering from psoriasis to Stop Hiding and
- Encouraging patients to see a dermatologist and discuss appropriate ways to manage
LeAnn Rimes stands up to psoriasis...
The spotlight has followed singer LeAnn Rimes for most of her life. Unfortunately, so has the embarrassment of her psoriasis. But not anymore. LeAnn is taking a stand to Stop Hiding from her psoriasis and wants you to Stop Hiding and Start Living too.
Earlier this week I spoke with LeAnn...
How difficult was it growing up with psoriasis and at such a young age?
Well yes, I was diagnosed when I was two, so I pretty much don’t know anything other than having it...by the time I was six I was 80% covered, everything but my hands, feet and face. It was very debilitating physically and mentally. Even as a child having people really not understanding what the disease is and thinking it was contagious and trying to stay away from me. My parents really did a good job of covering it up, especially my mom, [with] the way she dressed me. And it was hard, it was hard being in the public eye. 'Til the time I was 13 I wasn't really able to wear dresses (short dresses) on the red carpet, or shorts in the middle of the summer…I would always wear jeans. It was really tough; it took a toll on my self esteem for a long time.
Did other children tease you when you were a child?
Yes, I would sometimes miss out on pool parties and things because I would never want to be around other girls with my bathing suite on – because they really didn’t understand what it was.
Was this before there were effective treatments?
There were effective treatments, but not as many as there are now. When I was six and I was really badly covered, I did a treatment where they literally take coal tar and wrap you in saran wrap for six hours, for two in a half weeks, five days a week. You sit there, and it’s just the most excruciating thing I think I’ve ever been through – but it works for like two and a half months, and then it comes right back.
Are some of the treatments worth the trouble of side effects?
If I wasn’t on the medicine that I am on now (which has kept me clear for the last five years), I would be completely covered. For me, the negative effects of the medications I can overlook - because it’s my life, it’s what I do...But it’s also my well being and my mental well being, and it definitely takes a toll. And we now know that psoriasis is linked to depression. So I think sometimes the benefits do outweigh the negative effects of the medicine. Then sometimes it doesn't...I mean, I've been on medication where I had to give blood every couple of weeks to check my liver functions and my kidney functions, and my blood pressure...but that was for a very short period of time because it took a toll on me and my body.
Do you find that stress exacerbates your symptoms?
Oh yes, stress is a huge trigger for me, and for most people.
Have you found effective ways to manage your stress?
I think the best thing for me has been to find things that can calm my mind. I have an overactive mind, I’m constantly thinking about the future and what I have to do next. Things like yoga and walking and just getting out in nature has been really good for me. It’s different for everyone, but finding something that centers you and can relieve some stress off of you is definitely a good tool to have.
Do your symptoms prevent you from enjoying summer activities? Like going to the beach and swimming in chlorinated swimming pools?
I have to be really careful. The beach is great, salt water has always been great for my skin. I do get in the sun, my Dermatologist has always said 20 minutes of unprotected sun is really good for psoriasis; so I do that, and I'm really careful about my skin though, I do wear a lot of sunscreen. I am careful about going into chlorinated pools, and I don't stay in there very long when I do. The chlorine really dries my skin out, and I think from having psoriasis so young and feeling the tightness on my skin...I cant get out the pool or shower without immediately applying lotion, because I hate that feeling.
So you are able to enjoy summer activities?
Well now I am, but I wasn't when I was younger.
When you where younger it did keep you in?
Yes, a lot of the time it did.
Was that mainly because of your self esteem issues?
Yeah, really as a kid you don’t realize you have a lot more to offer other than what is on the outside. It does bother me now when I break out, but it’s just skin, I have so much more to offer than just my skin.
What would you tell other women suffering with negative body image?
I think being comfortable with yourself is a struggle that we all go through no matter who we are, we all have days we feel ugly, or we look bloated. Especially for women, it changes from day to day. I think focusing on the positive things and what your body can accomplish, more than what it looks like, is a healthier way to look at it and [by] surrounding yourself with people who love you the way you are. I think we just live in a time that is really hard on women.
In general do you find that your chronic illness can sometimes be a blessing in disguise?
Well speaking for myself, through this campaign I’m able to take something that’s been really negative in my life and turn it into something positive, and help a lot of people. I never knew why I had it, but I guess now I am finding out why...I can put a face with the disease...and change a lot of peoples' lives, and encourage them to get treatment. I think that is obviously one of the reasons I've been 'blessed' with this disease.
When it comes to treatments, are some helpful for some people and not for others?
Treatment varies. There are so many different treatments, and through the campaign we are trying to encourage people with psoriasis to partner with their dermatologist to figure out what treatment is right for them.
What about people with psoriasis who are uninsured or under insured?
It's such a big issue right now, and it's a shame that people have a condition that is treatable but they can't afford the treatment.
I know several people that have it and can’t get the medication they need. It is very frustrating. The medication I am on now was not approved for psoriasis when I was started on it, so until it was approved I paid $1400 for every shot (getting shots every two weeks). I had tried every treatment out there except for this one treatment, so it’s the only thing that worked.
How long ago did you start this treatment that has been helping you?
Five years ago.
How has this effected your music and your career? Has it been a hindrance or a help?
Well, I think I’ve always been a driven child, I think it made me a fighter in my life and my career. So yes, I think it has helped, but it has also been a pain. You know, to be in public eye and having to cover it and hide it. It's very liberating to talk about it. I get people coming up all the time to say thank you.
When did you begin your campaign?
Stop Hiding From Psorisis started last year, and we did a big push through the website to not only educate psoriasis sufferers and encourage them to get treatment, but also to educate America on what it is because people still don't exactly know what psoriasis is, and that it's not contagious... It was a campaign to help psoriasis sufferers like me to be able to walk down the street and someone see [the psoriasis] and not go "oh my god what is that"...and walk the other way. This year with the campaign we are really focusing on the psoriasis patient and really encouraging them to go get treatment. Because there are 7 1/2 million people living with it and a lot of them are not getting treated. We are encouraging them to find a dermatologist and get treated...It's something I'm really passionate about.
This was the end of my interview in regards to psoriasis. But before I could end my conversation with LeAnn, I couldn't ignore the fact that I was talking to her on the same day as Micheal Jackson's funeral and memorial. So my last questions to her were about that. She told me she had been watching the coverage all day...
The coverage it's quite amazing, I don't think I've ever seen anything like it. It's a very sad loss, I think I'll always remember where I was when I heard he died. He was a genius and he will be greatly missed. He was a musical genius and you never know what he could have done past 50. It's a sad day.
Were you inspired by Michael's music?
Yes, I think his music inspired the whole world. I listened to him when I was younger and I was obsessed with Michael for awhile, I think everyone was. He was larger than life.
So, after the interview was over I realized there had been one important issue I wanted to ask LeAnn about, but I had totally forgot to ask her.
In researching for this interview I came across a study done by the Archives of Dermatology. Here is an excerpt from the article...
If you are one of the millions of Americans who currently suffer from psoriasis, you may have an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, or blockages in the legs, arms and groin, according to new research. Those who suffer with psoriasis, an irritating skin condition, which is also associated with atherosclerosis, a disease of the blood vessels signaled by plaque buildup, might also have an increased risk of dying. Psoriasis, a condition that causes raised, silvery plaque-looking skin, affects around 7 million Americans. Several previously released studies have indicated a link between psoriasis and several other systemic, inflammatory diseases. Now, a new study published in the June issue of the Archives of Dermatology, indicates a greater risk of strokes, heart conditions and blockages for psoriasis sufferers.
I was wondering if LeAnn had heard about this study, and what she thought about it? Thankfully, I was able to get her response via email.
It is important that people understand psoriasis is more than a skin disease – it’s a chronic immune disorder and people with the disease are at increased risk for developing other serious conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and depression.
Well, it was great to have the opportunity to talk with LeAnn this week about her struggles and triumphs over psoriasis. I could tell she was genuine in her concern for others suffering with this condition. I think her story has the power to inspire other young women who might be suffering with psoriasis, and even women who are simply struggling with body image issues.
And as non-psoriasis sufferers, we need to work hard at educating ourselves and others while helping to lift the stigma associated with this condition - so we are not adding to the pain that people with psoriasis are already suffering.
Here is a video with LeAnn promoting the Stop Hiding & Start Living website...
Some facts about psoriasis:
- It is a chronic inflammatory skin disease that has no known cause.
- The tendency toward developing psoriasis is inherited in genes.
- Psoriasis is not contagious.
- Psoriasis gets better and worse spontaneously and can have periodic remissions (clear skin).
- Psoriasis is controllable with medication.
- Psoriasis is currently not curable.
- There are many promising therapies including newer biologic drugs.
- Future research for psoriasis looks promising.
- It's now also believed that psoriasis sufferers have increase risk of serious health issues
Don't forget to check out the Stop Hiding and Start Living website.
*Photo credit of LeAnn Rimes by Scott Gries/Getty Images
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