Treat Psoriasis Seriously–World Psoriasis Day 2018

 

Today, October 29th, is World Psoriasis Day. Each year I look forward to this day as I think about the 125 million people around the world who understand on some level what it means to live with psoriasis. Nobody needs to feel alone with this disease.

This special day each year is sponsored by the International Federation of Psoriasis Associations (IFPA). I volunteer as a Psocial Ambassador (blogger) for a member association, the National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF). The theme this year is PsoSerious: Treat Psoriasis Seriously. The NPF encourages those living with psoriasis to pledge https://www.psoriasis.org/world-psoriasis-day/pledge to take one action toward treating your psoriasis more seriously.

My World Psoriasis Day Action: Get a Flu Shot

A couple days ago I got a flu shot in honor of World Psoriasis Day. Three years ago, during Easter weekend, I truly had influenza. I experience high fever, extreme fatigue, and achy muscles among other symptoms. The doctors ruled out sepsis/infection with a blood test and at the same time tested for viruses. Sure enough, I had H3N2 Influenza A late in the flu season.

I sadly missed out on speaking at Good Friday Service and Easter Sunday Worship at church. I hated putting that extra work on my colleagues, but I could not even get out of bed. In twenty years of ministering in churches that Easter is the only one I have missed. On a different Easter weekend I even spoke on two hours of sleep as I kept watch over my sick daughter. Not much keeps me away from church on Sunday.

The worst part of getting Influenza A, though, was not work related. My psoriasis and eczema flares with fever, especially from bacterial and viral infections. It’s a huge trigger for me and I try to avoid getting sick at all costs because of it. That means getting a flu shot is important and necessary to manage my skin during the winter and spring seasons.

A worthy action for me in honor of World Psoriasis Day.


My psoriasis and eczema flares with fever, especially from bacterial and viral infections. It’s a huge trigger for me and I try to avoid getting sick at all costs because of it.


Take Psoriasis Seriously

This year’s World Psoriasis Day resonates with me for another reason as well: psoriasis is serious business. I shared a frustrating part of my psoriasis story at the Experience Innovation Network’s CXO Roundtable in San Francisco last Tuesday. I sat at Table 7 as the patient partner in a design workshop meant for healthcare executives. The workshop led the participants through the steps of designing healthcare around the patient from the beginning of the process. The challenge I presented before my table involved my multiple insurance denials for combination therapy.

As I voiced the story of using multiple treatments to treat recalcitrant psoriasis since childhood I could see the deep concern and compassion on the participants’ faces. They felt frustrated along with me as I told about an inflexible insurance provider that would not cover two expensive medications that I needed to properly treat my psoriasis.

I know I am a few weeks away from becoming covered from head to toe with psoriatic lesions if treatment fails me completely. I can’t stomach the thought of returning to the misery and pain of red, painful, hot, and itchy lesions all over my body. When my skin is flaring that much I can’t hide it all under clothes as I would want to. Unwelcome stares and questions invariably follow me wherever I go.

I’ve also learned how psoriasis causes inflammation throughout my body, not just on my skin. I hate hearing about those studies that show that those with psoriasis are at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and other autoimmune conditions as comorbidities. With severe psoriasis and lots of inflammation over the years I just might die younger than I otherwise would have.


I’ve also learned how psoriasis causes inflammation throughout my body, not just on my skin.


Indeed, it goes without saying that I must take seriously adopting changes and treatments that minimize those impacts psoriasis might have on my quality and longevity of life.

But Not Too Seriously

At the same time, I’m learning to not take psoriasis too seriously. It’s easy for me to lock my mind and emotions with my condition. I am obviously more than my psoriasis, and life is more than clearing my skin inflammation. I don’t need to take myself or my psoriasis too seriously.

My wife Lori recently reminded me the important role laughter has in healing. I fell in love with her infectious laughter, and her ability to laugh together at some otherwise painful circumstances and challenging situations. We had a silly moment in Wal Mart where we wore plush masks out late on a shopping date (should’ve purchased these for Halloween!)

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Life gets too serious sometimes, so I need to continue to find ways to bring some levity and perspective even in the midst of insurance denials, flaring skin, and frustrating treatments.


Check out the Treaments Tried page for my personal experience taking Otezla and Tremfya!


Personal Family Update: Taking Care of Mom

Finally, I want to give a family update that has impacted my life, including my blogging and social media advocacy. My mom learned she has advanced stage lymphoma a couple months ago. I’ve been flying to Southern California every three weeks to accompany her to oncology appointments and chemotherapy infusions. As I write this I am on my way to Orange County to take mom to the infusion center in Irvine, CA the next two days.

I love my parents dearly and am glad I can be an hour away to help them when needed. Unfortunately, I’ve needed to take a break from writing as work at church, family, and personal health took precedence. Praying mom responds well to treatment and can experience remission after these courses of treatment.

 

 

 

One Year with Tremfya: Can’t Get Enough!

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I love visiting my parents in Orange County, California, especially going to the beach. But this last time around my psoriasis flared during the trip and is only slowly calming down.

The anniversary of my first injection of Tremfya (Guselkumab) came and went in late August. In a way it’s a good sign that the time went by quickly, for as the saying goes, I had more freedom and fun while it knocked down skin inflammation. In fact, I can’t get enough of Tremfya.

Why Can’t I Get More?

Soon after starting Tremfya I recognized a pattern that continues to this day: about six weeks into the eight-week injection cycle the psoriasis begins to break out. It’s a thin, red, guttate type psoriasis. I call it a “thousand points of psoriasis” lighting up my skin. Lots of little dots or eraser head size lesions that peel and leave a dark pink to red raw skin underneath.

I call it a “thousand points of psoriasis” lighting up my skin. Lots of little dots or eraser head size lesions that peel leave a dark pink to red raw skin underneath.

I asked Dr. Carroll, my new dermatologist starting here in 2018, if I could take Tremfya more frequently. Ideally, I could get an injection every four weeks, but I asked for every six weeks. Predictably, my insurance denier provider said no. Upon appeal they also said no.

Like a petulant child I thought I could proverbially stomp the ground by appealing until I broke the insurance company down to give out another couple injection a year. But they are stubborn, like I am as a parent. I asked why and they gave me the “there are no studies to substantiate the effectiveness of taking Tremfya more frequently,” and the “FDA approves Tremfya for every eight weeks” so you are out of luck kind of answers.

I get it. It’s $10k for one injection. But that one or two extra injections could make a huge difference in my quality of life. Thankfully, they approved the normal dosage so that my quality of life is substantially improve already.

But wow it would be great to get a little more.

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Here is my right arm taken on September 18, 2018 at the end of my eight week Tremfya cycle. Relatively flat, red spots that more peel than flake and not itchy. They tend to start going away a couple weeks after taking the injection.

It Would Be Great for Stress Events

It’s not just that I want to pry the insurance provider’s fingers off of that precious box of Tremfya comes in for selfish gain. I need it for those stressful times I’m working at the church, helping out the family, or madly meeting blog deadlines. Continue reading →

August is Psoriasis Action Month

Today marks the beginning of a month long focus on taking control of your psoriasis. The National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF) produced this graphic with a comment on how meaningful treating my psoriasis has been for me:

NPF 2018 Action Month Howard Chang

In the past August was designated “Psoriasis Awareness Month.” Recently, though, the change from awareness to action made sense with the emphasis on doing something to make a difference in your quality of life. Now more than ever those of us with psoriasis have many more options to treat and manage it.

I know it’s easy to get discouraged, or get in a rut with psoriasis. My hope is that this month each peson with psoriasis feels empowered to make one change to better their health. My change? Is it cheating to say that I’ve been experimenting with my new phototherapy unit? If so, I definitely need to reexamine my stress levels as July was off the charts.

Things Change, Clear Can Happen

The NPF is sponsoring a number of activities around the theme “Things change, clear can happen” for Psoriasis Action Month. From the NPF:

Things change. Your symptoms change. Your health changes.

With advancements in the number of treatment options available, now more than ever, it is easier to treat psoriasis – and the results can be life changing. Regardless of the type of treatment (phototherapy, topical treatments, systemic drugs or biologics), patients who manage their psoriasis report a higher quality of life, less absenteeism at work and are more productive. Psoriasis Action Month focuses on empowering people with psoriasis to take control of their disease.

A good place to start is to take an online quiz to assess how much psoriasis impacts your life. I took the quiz and was not in the least surprised to find that I got “Severe impact.”

Consider Your Options

If your psoriasis is severe like mine you know it takes quite a bit of effort and energy to manage this unpredictable immune condition. But it’s eye opening to see all the options that are out there to at least try. Some old treatments can work again, too.


As the calendar turned over to August this morning I thought about the long journey that took some fifteen years before I could find some semblance of psoriasis control.


As the calendar turned over to August this morning I thought about the long journey that took some fifteen years before I could find some semblance of psoriasis control without overly worrying about what my treatments might be doing to my overall health.

Cyclosporine kicked me out of a horrible flare that left me nearly unable to function in the mid-2000s. It took over two years of trying this and that before I found cyclosporine. Those years I will never get back with much regret at lost time and opportunities.

But then I became somewhat dependent on cyclosporine. Every treatment I tried to get off of cyclosporine failed. I used it off and on at high and low doses for over a decade despite FDA warnings to the contrary. I did take breaks, but within a couple months into the break my skin raged with inflammation. Even biologics I tried only worked with cyclosporine, not without. My blood pressure began to rise along with my triglycerides.

Today I’m grateful for the many resources and ways I’ve been able to get under better control over the past year or so since I started taking Tremfya and using phototherapy. Some treatments, like Otezla, didn’t help me. Still, though, I appreciated the option to try something new even if in the end the results didn’t match expectations.

For me this psoriasis action month is about taking a step forward, courageously trying something new, and not giving psoriasis too much power in my life.

 

I look forward to sharing more of my recent treatment journey in a couple upcoming guest blogs, on The Itch to Beat Psoriasis on Everyday Health, Plaquepsoriasis.com, and here on Pso Howard!

This August commit to taking action to improve your life with psoriasis and please feel free share how it’s going.

 

 

Tremfya is much, much harder to get than I imagined

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I took this photo of the sunset over the ocean on last month’s Alaska cruise. It reminds me of calmer waters and more joyful times as I persisted in getting my Tremfya prescription right over the past few weeks since.

The journey began in May simply enough: get Tremfya renewed for another year at a new specialty pharmacy. I have continued to use my previous dermatologist’s prescription this year, but with a new doctor I needed a new prescription at a differeent pharmacy starting this summer.

My dermatologist and I decided to request every 6-week dosing, which we both thought would be denied. But it was worth a try, right? No. Denial came swiftly and ended up costing me a lot of time waiting and on the phone.


My dermatologist and I decided to request every 6-week dosing, which we both thought would be denied. But it was worth a try, right? No.


For me simple is never that simple when it comes to getting the newer, more expensive (good) medications to treat severe psoriasis.

(Barely) Qualifying to Receive Tremfya Coverage

After the DENIAL for every 6-week dosing schedule for Tremfya, I was glad to see they approved every 8-week schedule. It’s what I expected anyhow since it makes financial sense for the insurance provider to not pay more than it has to, even though I’ve shown I need a higher frequency dosing.

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With that letter describing how 6-week dosing is not covered, WHA did explain the criteria for receiving coverage for Tremfya. I couldn’t believe how incredibly restrictive the criteria are, including failing two of the newer medications/biologics:

WHA [Western Health Advantage] covers Tremfya when all the following criteria is met:

[1] when prescribed for moderate to severe plaque psoriasis confirmed by a dermatologist (psoriasis affects 10% or more of the body; psoriasis involves hands, feet, and neck or genitalia).

AND

[2] prescribed by a dermatologist

AND

[3] the patient has tried and failed topical therapy (e.g., Dovonex, Tazorac, or other topical steroids),

AND

[4] documented failure or clinically significant adverse effects to one of the following therapies alone or in combination, unless contraindicated: methotrexate or (if methotrexate in contraindicated) cyclosporine, acitretin, or a trial with PUVA or UVB for at least 3 months unless intolerant,

AND

[5] documented failure or significant adverse effects to at least two of the following: Humira, Otezla, Stelara, or Cosentyx.

Initial approvals are considered for 3 months to assess patient’s response and renewals for one year.


I couldn’t believe how incredibly restrictive the criteria are to receive Tremfya, including failing two of the newer medications/biologics.


This is how I imagine the insurance provider reviewer went about his job when fe came to my case: Continue reading →

My Surprise Visit to Wrigley Field

The day after I turned sixteen years old I took my driver’s license exam. That summer I utilized my license to deliver office supplies around the Bay Area and drive to Southern California with my friend. The highlight of our SoCal trip included taking in baseball games at Jack Murphy Stadium (San Diego) to watch the Padres, Dodger Stadium (Los Angeles) to see the Dodgers, and Anaheim Stadium (Orange County) to watch the Angels.

That’s when my goal of visiting every MLB baseball stadium in American began.

Baseball holds a special place in my heart. Playing Little League baseball as a nine-year old introduced me to American culture. I grew up in an immigrant Chinese family and faced discrimination in those early days. But baseball served as an outlet for an energetic young boy facing uphill challenges with psoriasis and bullying.

Read about My Painful Memories of Living with Psoriasis as a Teenager on my column The Itch to Beat Psoriasis at Everyday Health

My hard-working dad took me to San Francisco Giants games when I earned free tickets for good grades. The Giants gave away tickets to evening games at the frigid and windy Candlestick Park. Still, I loved going to those games watching Jack Clark, Darrell Evans, and Greg Minton out on the diamond.

As a kid I only dreamed of ever seeing a game at places like Fenway Park or Wrigley Field.

Landing in Chicago for HealtheVoices

In late April my daughter Lydia and I flew into Chicago for the HealtheVoices conference–a gathering of over 120 online patient advocates from some forty different disease states. Lydia mainly wanted to see a friend and visit Chicago sites. Since I had more time the first two days we set aside time to see the town together before I became busy with conference meetings.

The first day we went to Millennium Park and Navy Pier. Day two, after my meeting ended in the mid-afternoon, we headed out for an early Chicago deep dish pizza dinner. The walk from the hotel took a bit longer than expected. We needed the exercise so I didn’t mind. By evening, though, the cold wind whipped up reminding me Chicago’s moniker is “The Windy City.”

Riding the “L” After Dinner

I couldn’t help but think about the television show ER, set in Chicago, where the doctors would take the “L” subway system after their shift ended. I wanted to ride the “L” just once to honor that memory. A ride back to hotel turned out to be the perfect excuse to find the nearest station.

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Once seated on the train I figured out our stop for the hotel would only take a few minutes. On the subway map I noticed the Addison Street station stop a bit farther north than the stop for the hotel. I also somehow remembered that the Chicago Cubs play at Wrigley Field on Addison Street. A quick Google search confirmed we could see the baseball stadium if we took the “L” a few more stops.

Later we learned that the neighborhood around Wrigley Field isn’t necessarily the safest. Unknowing tourists traveling on a whim sometimes don’t know any better. Besides, with wanting to see the San Jose Sharks playoff game against the Las Vegas Golden Knights later that evening, we’d only have enough time to take a quick picture.

To my surprise the stadium lights lit up the night sky. People milled around the stadium and storefronts welcomed customers. All signs pointed to Wrigley Field playing host to a Cubs home game.

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Buying Tickets from a Reseller (Okay, Scalper)

We ran around the stadium to find the front entrance where I could take a quick picture. The tied game against the Milwaukee Brewers had entered the bottom of the fifth inning. As soon as Lydia took this photograph of me the ticket resellers (scalpers) descended on us like vultures spotting prey.

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The first offered me a bargain basement $25 a ticket for, of course, the best seats in the house. I politely said no then walked away. The second wanted to sell me lower deck seats for $10 each. I said no and walked even further away. He followed me for about twenty yards. After a short whisper deliberation with Lydia, I told him I would buy the tickets only if he walked to the entrance gate with me to confirm their legitimicy.

A few minutes later Lydia and I entered into Wrigley Field for the first time. The tickets gave us a great view along the left field line with some obstructed view only above us.

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A few minutes later Lydia and I entered into Wrigley Field for the first time. The tickets gave us a great view along the left field line with some obstructed view only above us.

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Singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at Wrigley Field

Any baseball fan knows how iconic singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh-inning stretch is at Wrigley Field, especially with legendary Harry Caray. A great MLB article Famous fans stretch their pipes at Wrigley describes this Cubs tradition. I waited expectantly for the top of the seventh to finish then signaled to Lydia it’s time to sing.

Here’s a video of that memorable moment:

 

Immediately after the song ended we ran for the exits wanting to avoid the rush out of the stadium. On the way out we stopped at the gift shop, took a quick pit stop, and snapped a few more photos.

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The Cubs ended up winning 1-0, with the winning solo home run by Kyle Schwarber hit in the bottom of the sixth inning.

You never really know what adventures life might take you on when you get invited to a conference because you’ve blogged about psoriasis for over ten years. Or you decide to take the train instead of walk after dinner. Or what might happen if you stay on that train for a few stops longer to see a baseball stadium.

On that late April evening in Chicago I crossed another item off my bucket list: taking in a baseball game at Chicago’s Wrigley Field. All made possible because we felt adventurous after eating deep dish pizza.

The Home Phototherapy Unit Arrives!

A few weeks ago the narrowband ultraviolet B light (NUVB) panel finally arrived. My dermatologist and I decided to try home phototherapy after determining that Tremfya (guselkumab) alone would not adequately suppress my psoriasis or address my atopic dermatitis.

I gave up, though, after my health insurance denier provider rejected the initial prescription, the first appeal, and then the appeal to the denial. I know I shouldn’t stop fighting, but I figured I needed to choose my battles wisely. I lost this round and that was that.

A Gift Arrives Via Freight Truck

As the delivery truck pulled up to my driveway I thought about how a couple dozen people generously gave to the GoFundMe campaign started by a parishioner at church. The over four thousand dollars raised allowed me to order, and now take delivery, of a Daavlin Series 7 eight bulb NUVB panel with dosimetry timer.

The over two hundred thirty pound wooden box initially looked like a crudely constructed coffin. But inside contained another tool in the arsenal to combat inflammatory immune responses on my skin. Here I’m holding the protective grills that install over each pair of six foot light bulbs:

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Continue reading →

2nd Dermatology Visit: Waiting and Delaying Treatments

This time I made it on time for my dermatology appointment. After the first visit to my new dermatologist almost turned out a disaster, I made sure to double check the appointment time. Yes, I needed to make it to the clinic on Tuesday at 10:00 a.m. for this second visit.

You’d think that after four decades of seeing doctors I would feel comfortable at clinic appointments. But in those few minutes I spend with the dermatologist decisions will be made about my health that will impact my life for weeks to come.

With a new dermatologist and healthcare provider system I felt intense anxiety for that appointment. My elevated blood pressure told the same story: seeing the doctor is a stressful event for me. Even so, I overcame my anxieties to closely collaborate with Dr. Carroll on what’s next for my skin treatments.

Getting Acquainted

Thankfully, the doctor visit went much better than I expected. At the outset I spent a couple minutes getting acquainted with Dr. Carroll. I first shared my psoriasis column on Everyday Health, The Itch to Beat Psoriasis with her. I also talked about my volunteer work with the National Psoriasis Foundation. Dr. Carroll shared how she studied under a prominent psoriasis researcher and physician and supported the Foundation’s efforts. She explained her philosophy of putting patients first, even if they are late like I was last time.

I thought the exchange helped to break the ice and develop rapport. I hoped that by sharing some of my life with psoriasis she could trust I knew my skin conditions well enough to input on treatment decisions. I also felt more comfortable that, based on her training and experience, she could manage the challenging case that is my psoriasis and atopic dermatitis.

Besides getting to know a new healthcare system and my new dermatologist, I needed to consult with her on a couple issues looming for my health and skin care.

Tremfya Adjustment

I’m convinced now that the pattern I saw emerging with my psoriasis on Tremfya treatment at week 24 continues. The normal dosing schedule for Tremfya is one injection every eight weeks. By week six or so, however, my psoriasis tends to begin to worsen. It takes two or three weeks after the injection to get back to a more controlled state–if at all.

I would like to try taking it every 4 weeks, but that would double the injections to 13 annually. With a cost of ~$10,000 per injection you can do the math. Every 8 weeks is about 6.5 injections per year, with every 6 weeks about 9 injections. Continue reading →