Jay Ferguson was first diagnosed with psoriasis, an immune-mediated disease that affects the skin, when she was 10 years old.
Today, she is celebrating a renewed outlook on life.
"I'm now 62," said Ferguson, a 35-year Parksville resident. "It's been a long journey."
The disease began mostly in her hair and spread through her body in her 20s. Psoriasis comes in several forms but normally causes patches of skin to turn red and be covered with silvery scales. It can cause itching, burning and soreness. The condition most affected Ferguson's torso, arms, hands and feet.
"It made socializing kind of interesting when I was young," said Ferguson. "I don't ever remember wearing shorts. I sort of always shied away from public pools and that sort of thing."
Psoriasis made showers feel like vinegar being poured on a million cuts, said Ferguson. Texting on a cell phone could make her fingers bleed.
Ferguson worked at Parksville Fabric Centre, where Pacific Brimm is now.
She remembers customers not wanting her to give them change or touch the things she had, fearing her skin condition was contagious.
"You can't blame people for that but it's just because there's such a misconception about it," said Ferguson. "People just don't understand. It's not contagious.
It's mostly hereditary." After years of searching and growing frustration with her doctors, Ferguson found a doctor a year ago who provided her a newer treatment, Stelara, that she says has changed everything about her life.
Stelara is injected and, after a year of it, Ferguson is enjoying the little things most of all: being able to walk in open-toed shoes, texting and showering without pain.
"It's completely changed my life, just totally changed my life," she said.
"I was getting really frustrated with my doctors. I just seemed to be going around in circles and back to the same old thing and I finally, finally found a doctor that offered me some alternative options. I just got lucky and the first [drug] I tried is working miraculously."
The biggest message Ferguson wants to get out is to clear misconceptions about psoriasis.
"People think that it's a skin disease and it's actually is not," she said. "It's an autoimmune disease that manifests through the skin. That also happens to be the thing that people see right away when they meet you. Emotionally and socially it's been quite crippling for most of my life."
For those suffering, she says to keep searching and looking for a doctor and a treatment that works. It's the 21st century, and psoriasis itself is treatable now, says Ferguson, not just its symptoms.
For those who see someone with psoriasis, Ferguson says they'd rather be engaged than shunned.
"I think I felt better in some way and I made others around me feel better if they just asked me what it was and I was able to say to them: 'By the way, you can't catch this from me. It's not contagious. It's something I was born with.' It's just people's misunderstanding."
/ Jay Ferguson found a doctor who tried a newer treatment for psoriasis. A year of it "totally changed my life.";
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