From 5th grade to 9th grade! Where has the time–and TSW–gone?

I hadn’t intended to stay away so long, but a lot has happened since my last post in January. Between baseball tournaments, school, traveling, and taking care of dad, I completed my transitional doctorate in physical therapy from Northeastern University in July and received my direct access certification for VA; my TSW systematic review paper and my capstone paper on scleroderma have been accepted for publication and will be available online soon; two other papers on scleroderma are being considered for publication; we met up with other TSW warriors in Denver; and the world-famous Briana Banos visited and interviewed us for her documentary on TSW, “Preventable: protecting our largest organ.” And, ironically, ALL this never would have happened had it not been for TSW.

Brian started TSW (topical steroid withdrawal) as a 5th grader in the  Fall of 2013. Today, he just completed his first month as a 9th grader! So far, he’s juggling a rigorous curriculum and baseball pretty well. Now, the lack of sleep is due to homework and projects, not the incessant itch of TSW. Although his skin is not perfect–no thanks to bad genes–three of the five persistent TSW symptoms I’d been monitoring (elephant skin, red sleeves, feet and ankle flares) did not rear their ugly heads this past spring and summer. Dare I say it and risk jinxing us? Could the TSW be over?

September 5, 2017       First day as a high schooler!

Nahhh…we still have to get through winter and spring. If there’s more snow on the ground than on his sheets and if his flares don’t reoccur, then I’d say we’re done. In the meantime, I’ll continue to gratefully and joyfully watch my sweet little boy grow into a strong young man, made wiser and more resilient by this unenviable journey.

 “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever.” Psalm 30:11-12

39 months TSW and Happy New Year!

Darth Brian ready to take on the big hill! 1st snow 1/2/2017

1/8/17               Darth Brian ready to take on the big hill!   (wearing sunglasses and breathe-easy ski mask)       1st snow of 2017 

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

The start of 2017 finds us in a much better place than this time last year, when Brian was recovering from eczema herpeticum and a TSW flare (see post), and in a much, much better place since he started TSW at the age of 10.

January 6, 2017 marked the 1189th day–3 years and 3 months–since we stopped using topical steroids on Brian for eczema because they had ceased to keep the eczema under control. (Read About it). Despite the long, exceedingly difficult journey and cruel rollercoaster nature of Topical Steroid Withdrawal (TSW), it was the right choice for Brian’s skin and health.

Today, he’s a healthy, thriving 8th grader, and his skin is stronger and in better condition than it was when he was using topical steroids. NOT perfect, but better. After changing and shaking sheets daily for over 2 1/2 years, I enjoyed a 3-month break from this ritual (Aug.-Nov. 2016) when shedding was imperceptible, almost normal. Eczema scratching comes and goes but is no longer debilitating (Log 1/8/17 update). He can sleep at night and wake up for school in the morning with minimal scratching. No more hollering for an ice pack in the middle of the night, though he does ask me to scratch his back for old time’s sake. With the late Fall and Winter weather, I’ve noticed increased dryness and some mild flaking that didn’t start until mid-December. Elephant skin, ooze, and red sleeves have not reared their ugly heads, but there are a few cold months left, and these signs of residual TSW may yet resurface and disrupt our lives once again.

Of course, nothing–especially skin–is perfect, and acceptance of whatever state we’re in brings a sense of peace, but we praise God that our lives no longer revolve 100% around his skin. Right now, we are comfortably managing eczema and are thankful for how far Brian’s come. TSW has shown us we can handle and get through whatever comes our way. And so can you. We are never alone. Stay strong; have hope; keep the faith!

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”  Isaiah 43:2-3

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SKIN/SCRATCH MANAGEMENT at 39 months TSW (links to management for 5, 10, and 18.5 months TSW also follow)

8th grade Cross Country 10/26/2016

Warmer days……8th grade Cross Country 10/26/2016

Brian’s current Skin/Scratch regimen is similar to that posted 9/16/2016, with changes reflecting whatever his skin requires at the particular time. Goals remain the same, but interventions may change as weather and skin needs change. The following regimen works for Brian. However, people in various stages of TSW may require different treatments, and it is important to test or know what you may or may not react to. Every person is different; you need to find what works best for you.

Goals:

  • To keep the skin clean, hydrated, and infection-free
  • To utilize effective itch/scratch management to prevent breaks in the skin (to prevent infection)
  • To support the body/skin health and healing by taking needed vitamins/supplements, monitoring sugar and dairy intake, and getting proper nutrition/hydration, exercise, and sleep, and utilizing stress management and deep breathing techniques

Treatment/Skin Care Routine: At least once daily shower, followed by application of organic coconut oil (face, extremities, trunk). Hot summer months require a “lighter” moisturizer or no moisturizer at all. During winter, can use thicker aquaphor or petroleum jelly for nose, cheeks, ears, and parts exposed to cold.

Sunscreen: Organic, virgin coconut oil

Infection control measures:

  • Take apple cider vinegar (ACV) bath (10 minute soak) or 20 minutes in microsilk tub bath 1-3 times per week, followed by shower/rinse off, and moisturize with coconut oil or nothing. More frequently if flaring.
  • Spray sovereign silver, as needed, on any open areas or broken skin.
  • If these conservative measures fail, and skin/itch don’t improve, consult health care provider.
  • Change sheets daily.

Vitamins/Supplements/Diet: Vitamin D3, Omega 3 fish oil capsules, recommended by pediatrician;  pantothenic acid, DAO histaminase, B complex, culturelle probiotic–supplements prescribed by naturopath to address methylation issues (difficulty processing histamines and sensitivity to eggs, dairy, and fruit-sugar combos) and provide gut support; try to monitor dairy, egg, and processed sugar intake 

Itch/scratch management: Generally 0/5 to 2-/5 scratching. Some short episodes of   3-/5 with fatigue or stress or who knows what. (See log for scratch scale.) Cut and file fingernails short. Deep breathing/relaxation techniques, acupressure points, ice packs, distraction. He will use benadryl liquid as needed but hasn’t used it in months.

If needed for >3/5 scratching: Dr. Wang’s purple eczema ointment, The Home Apothecary’s lemongrass balm, moisturizer (e.g., coconut oil), or sovereign silver gel/spray

Remaining TSW symptoms: (compare to March 2, 2014 at five months TSW and 28 months TSW. )

  • Shedding—As in past 2 years, progressive decrease in visible, measurable shedding from end of June to Aug. This year it was June to barely perceptible in Nov. 2016. Restarted slightly measurable shedding (<1/16 teaspoon) around mid-December, from increased skin dryness. (Is this still TSW or “just” eczema? I’m leaning toward eczema))
  • Elephant skin—Not evident since this time last year January 2016
  • Red sleeves, edema—None noted in upper or lower extremities since January/February 2016 (feet) 
  • Ooze smell—None since June 2016

Skin quality:

–Back is soft, smooth but has intermittent eruptions of erythematous papules scattered on posterior scapulae and low back–haven’t pinpointed the trigger

–Shoulders, elbows, knees textured with scattered hypo-pigmentation from scratching on tan skin. Dry but no obvious flaking. Sometimes erythema with neck scratching

–Still with periodic small breaks in skin on shoulders, elbows, hands, or knees from scratching/picking; skin fluctuates from soft and smooth to pebble grain

–Able to play in the sun, heat, and snow without itchfests

Function: Sleeping through the night (roughly 10:30p-7am) and staying an active 8th grader.

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Click these links to see Brian’s treatment/regimens at 5 months10 months and 18.5 months TSW

2 Home Runs and 35 months TSW

It’s hard to believe that it’s already September! Summer goes by fast when you spend it traveling from one baseball tournament to another, a family reunion, and two weddings–in 4 different states. Thankfully, we’ve been able to do it all, and Brian has weathered the heat and humidity of summer like a champ.

Brian’s team, the Virginia Breeze Elite, brought home the Cal Ripkin championship trophy and came in the top 8 of 104 teams at the week-long Cooperstown tournament in NY. The stay in the barracks and uniforms washed by the staff challenged his skin, but he at least came out no worse than he went in: 0/5 to 2+/5 ss (scratch scale) and minimal shedding.

Also, he hit his first and 2nd home runs ever that week, contributing 2 to the team’s 44. He batted .611 in 6 pool play games–a fitting end to his “little field” career and a testament to how far he’s come in his TSW journey. Thank you, Jesus!

“But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead…you should stand firm in the LORD, dear friends!” Philippians 3:13, 4:1

Virginia Breeze Elite 12u Cal Ripkin Champs

Virginia Breeze Elite 12u Cal Ripkin Champs (Brian is kneeling, 2nd from the right)

Cooperstown 2016

Cooperstown 2016

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Edisto Beach, SC

Edisto Beach, SC

 

Eczema Herpeticum and 27.5 months TSW

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Don’t let TSW keep you down!  1/24/16

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1st snow of 2016 (1/23/16)

IMG_2157A belated Happy New Year! As I write this post on a snowy day, 27.5 months into Brian’s Topical Steroid Withdrawal (TSW) journey, I can’t help but give thanks and praise to God again for finding the International Topical Steroid Awareness Network (ITSAN) in the Fall of 2013 and for the many friends I’ve made in the TSW Facebook support groups. The support and exchange of information with TSW warriors and parents of other child TSW warriors like Brian have encouraged me to keep fighting for:

1) Recognition in the research and medical community of Red Skin Syndrome/Topical Steroid Addiction (RSS/TSA) and TSW in children;

2) Appropriate labeling of products containing topical steroids (TS); and

3) A change in the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) atopic dermatitis treatment guidelines that facilitates the prevention, early detection, and treatment of RSS/TSA and TSW in children and adults with eczema.

We’ve got a busy year ahead! 

Today is Brian’s 842nd day free of topical steroids (TS) for eczema. Overall, he is functioning very well, participating in extracurricular activities and school like any other 7th grader. His skin is still healing, but the skin and itch continue to be a seasonal challenge. “You need to follow summer,” says his pediatrician, who has been supportive in this process. So true. Brian’s skin is almost normal in the summer months as seen in these pictures from 2014 and 2015. Florida or the Bahamas may be in our future….

As you may know, the fall and winter months are particularly hard on the skin, especially eczematous skin. There is an increase in dryness and itching, and distinguishing between “true eczema” and “residual TSW” at this later stage is tricky. However, I believe he’s still got a bit of both. The underlying eczema seems to be reemerging (dry skin, itching), especially with the below freezing weather we’ve been having lately, but along with it continue signs and symptoms characteristic of TSW: Full-body shedding, red sleeves, elephant skin, “ooze” smell during night sweats. Pictures are below. (See FAQs for a full list of TSW symptoms.) This was particularly evident during Brian’s first experience with eczema herpeticum right after Christmas.

SKIN INFECTIONS  Thanks to the discussions about eczema herpeticum (EH) in the Topical Steroid-Red Skin Syndrome Support Group and with other moms on Facebook, I was able to suspect it as soon as Brian showed me those tell-tale vesicles and get him to his pediatrician right away. EH is a serious skin infection that can be life-threatening if not treated. Thankfully, his pediatrician was knowledgeable about it and prescribed timely treatment. He also said there was likely a secondary staph infection. Brian has not had a skin infection that required medication in quite a while, and this time he got a double whammy! Rx: antiviral +antibiotic+good skin/wound care.

Details and treatment are found in the LOG under Day 841, but the progression photos are below. It’s incredible how quickly the acyclovir cleared up the vesicles and pustules–gross! I know, I know!–and the scratching was noticeably decreased. I’ve always liked Brian’s getting a fever because he is never uncomfortable, and he stops scratching. He did develop a slight fever  (<24 hrs) which gave his skin a little respite from the scratching, but we knew his fever was breaking when he started scratching again, though much less than before treatment.

CLICK on any picture to enlarge.

 

 

 

 

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SIGNS and SYMPTOMS that suggest TSW continues

1) Elephant skin

2) Red sleeves, edema, and blanchable erythema

3) Full body dryness, flaking, and measurable shedding of skin. (See shedding pictures in a past post.)

What’s horrific but fascinating about TSW is the marked and frequent changes in skin quality and appearance. Brian’s skin texture on his back and extremities has fluctuated between pebble grain, coarse sand paper, plasticky dry, and fine sandpaper. Just the other day, his entire back felt as soft and smooth as a baby’s bottom for two days. Now, it’s back to a pebble grain, sandy texture again. This is why we need doctors to study RSS/TSA and TSW. WE see all this rapid skin cycling 24/7, 365, but they can’t see the full sequelae in a brief clinic visit. Current pictures of his feet show a disappearance of the red sleeves, for now.

Even though he’s over the skin infection, we’ll continue our treatment regimen outlined in Day 841 in the Log. The main goals are to keep the skin clean, hydrated, and infection-free and to minimize itching and the damage caused by scratching, while enabling him to get adequate sleep and be as active and functional as he can be. Yeah, no problem. 😉

Don’t let TSW hold you up!IMG_2154

"Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it's off to work we go...." 1/25/16

                                  “Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it’s off to work we go….”

Stay strong, persevere, and keep the faith!

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world!”  John 16:33

 

705 Days Free of Topical Steroids! The TSW Journey continues…

As a last salute to a summer that went by way too fast, we took a cruise with some friends to the Bahamas and visited my mom and family in Charleston for 8 days of sun, food, and fun. I decided to leave my militant TSW rituals at home for the week to see how Brian’s skin and scratch would fare (see Log dated 8/30/15). Maybe it’s just a summer thing–like last year–but his skin got better and his scratching was no worse despite heat, sweat, sun, and water. See pictures dated 8/27/15. It was a nice vacation from our TSW routine and “itch-think”, and Brian spent all his waking hours playing ping pong, eating soft serve ice cream, and having a blast with his friends.

We’ll continue the experiment of no vitamins/supplements while monitoring energy, function, skin, and scratch. Hopefully, we’ll be able to discontinue the daily vitamins and supplements (which is like pulling teeth to get him to take anyway) which will simplify our routine.

TSW is very unpredictable, especially in the later months like 22 and 23+ months out. You think you’re finally done with the cycles and are healed, then BOOM! the full-body symptoms are back again, as if you were in the horrific early months of TSW. For this reason we are thankful for any and all good skin and itch times.

October 2015 will be Brian’s 2-year anniversary of stopping TS. Beyond the itch, he has definitely come a long way. Praying for strength, endurance, perseverance, peace, and healing for all TSW infants, children, adults, and caregivers. Never lose hope!

Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint.”  Isaiah 40:31

Sunset in the Bahamas 8/26/15

Sunset in the Bahamas from the highest deck on the ship (taken by Brian) 8/26/15

8/26/15

8/26/15   Paddle boarding in Freeport 

Paddle boarding without a paddle in Freeport, Bahamas 8/26/15

Paddle boarding without a paddle 

Ping Pong on the beach

Ping Pong on the beach

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God’s gift of good friends

A systematic review of topical steroid withdrawal in children

Two great things happened this weekend.

1) Brian and his Virginia Breeze Elite teammates brought home another championship! They played 2 games on Saturday and 4 on Sunday to repeat as the Triple Crown Virginia State Champions (11u this year). Great weather, great company 🙂

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2) After 3+ months of work and neglecting my hubby and son, I finally completed and submitted my manuscript on “A systematic review of topical steroid withdrawal in children diagnosed with eczema” to an online journal. At 10,471 words, 5 figures, 19 tables, and 53 pages double-spaced, I was a “tad bit” over the 7500 word count, but the publisher was kind enough to make an exception to take a look at it.

Thankfully, this journal also allows the author to post the paper on a website while they decide on rejecting or accepting it. You can see the PDF here .

Whether it is “officially” published or not, at least I can get the information out there where patients, doctors, and researchers can access it, and now I can enjoy the rest of my summer watching my husband pace as we watch Brian and the Breeze boys play some INCREDIBLE baseball! 🙂

“Fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward..”  1 Corinthians 3:13-14

A little break from shedding, but those feet are a real ITCH….

One would think that after 19.5 months of TSW the full-body shedding would have stopped. Completely. NOT! Well, it did from TSW months 6-9, but it came back, steadily increasing to a flurry over the winter months and, finally, this past week we’ve seen a measurable decrease.

It has decreased from about a teaspoon of nightly shedding a few months ago to  1 teaspoon 1 month ago and to about 1/8 teaspoon today. 19.5 months TSW. This is very encouraging, but I won’t put my teaspoons away just yet. 🙂

Measureable shedding started 2 months TSW 12/7/13

Measurable full-body shedding started 1.5 to 2 months TSW 12/7/13  (This is just what was on the sheet in the morning.) 

 

More skin!

More skin January 2014!

 

7/29/14--Chicken Champs!

7/29/14–Summer break from shedding

After no shedding months 8-12,  RETURN of the dreaded measurable shedding at 14 months TSW! 12/2/14

Steadily increasing in quantity to ….

Almost 1 teaspoon at 15 months TSW   1/10/15

Almost 1 teaspoon overnight shedding at 15 months TSW 1/10/15

1/2 teaspoon overnite shedding 18 months TSW 4/15/15

1/2 teaspoon overnite shedding 18 months TSW 4/15/15   (Spoon sizes: 1 tsp, 1/2 tsp)

1/8 teaspoon shedding overnight at 19.5 months TSW

1/8 teaspoon shedding overnight at 19.5 months TSW (Spoon sizes: 1 tsp, 1/2 tsp, 1/4 tsp)

 

And those FEET…well, they continue to be a real ITCH! Dr. Rapaport says itching means healing….

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19 months TSW    5/17/15     Erythema decreased slightly. Multiple excoriations due to scratching.    

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5/17/2015

5/17/2015

Must be a whole lot of healing going on!  Thank you, God, for fingers to scratch the itch.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him.” Jeremiah 17:7