When Monica Dandwani stepped on to the catwalk in 2005 wearing a black sari, her eyes were fixed on the glittering tiara that would go to 'Miss Bhopal' Even as she made it to the contest's final round, Dandwani was not conscious about the pink patches of scaly skin on her arms. Her confident stride didn't betray the trauma she suffered when as 14 year-old in 2001 she developed psoriasis, a chronic skin disorder in which scaly pink patches develop on any part of the body.
Psoriasis is an incurable disease, the cause of which is not yet known. It occurs when the body's immune system mistakes the skin cells for pathogens (germs such as a virus or bacteria), and sends out faulty signals that speed up the growth cycle of skin cells. The skin itches constantly and gets flaky and sheds.
“My parents took me to every skin doctor in Bhopal but nobody could cure it. I hated myself for getting the disease,” said Dandwani, 24, who now works in an entertainment company in Mumbai. By 2005, Dandwani was fed up of applying different ointments that she gave up all medication. “I attended some motivation and spiritual workshops and those helped me accept my condition,” she added.
What is Psoriasis?
Psoriasis affects about 1% to 2% of the population and for most it is not easy to come to terms with the lifelong disease. It can affect any one. “Certain factors such as infection, injury, stress, drugs, regular consumption of alcohol and smoking can trigger the onset of this condition,” said Dr Sushil Tahiliani, a dermatologist who practises in Bandra and Malad. He added that the tendency to develop psoriasis is seen in people whose family members have a history of the disease.
The disease is not contagious and medication can lead to remission (temporarily clear up the skin). Phototherapy helped Dandwani clear up her skin for more than two years. But she suffered a second attack when she went on a crash diet. “I wanted to become thin like my friends. I would eat just once a day. I really suffered for that,” she rued.
While the constant itching, bleeding and pain are hard to live with, the biggest challenges are social stigma and the lack of confidence among patients. “I know of patients who attempted suicide after becoming 'useless' members of a poor family. Social life becomes nil. People are kicked out of jobs, or have restricted choice of jobs. People's sex life is affected,” said Dr Rajesh Shah, a homeopathic doctor from Chembur. Some patients get depressed and resort to substance abuse, which further lowers immunity and aggravates the disease, said Dr Tahiliani.
Patients, desperate for a cure, usually consult several doctors. “Many doctors do not counsel patients that the disease is not curable. Many people who practice alternate medicine put up misleading advertisements in newspapers saying that they can cure psoriasis,” said Dr Hema Jerajani Shukanje, former head of dermatology at Sion Hospital. “We have seen severe cases because of wrong treatment,” said Dr Jerajani.
Dandwani said people around her, including her clients, no longer fuss about the lesions. “If you are confident, people will accept you,” said Dandwani as she prepares for her engagement in May.