I remember the day I called my GP. It was a Friday morning in January. Typically freezing cold. I was standing in front of a full length mirror trying to choose something that was warm enough to keep out the bitter chill in the winter air. My mind drifted (as it often does!) and I began intently studying the tiny brown spots, on my bright white hands, almost as though visualising life without them. They looked like splashes of paint, disconnected….randomly spread across my hands. Over the years I’d seen new spots come and others go, and it always worried me, that one day I would potentially turn completely white.
Ironically, the call to my GP came when I had finally reached self-acceptance. I felt less insecure about my skin and recognised that Vitiligo didn’t define who I was. Yet here I was calling my GP asking if I could be referred to undergo UVB Narrowband Treatment….. In doing so, this raised the question of why all of a sudden now did I want to undergo treatment for a skin condition I now finally accepted?
Treatment doesn’t mean you hate the way you look
Whilst internally, I’d accepted my Vitiligo, loved its uniqueness and knew that it didn’t define who I was, on the surface; I still wasn’t comfortable revealing my patches. Sure, I was open to wearing t-shirts, maxi dresses and sandals in the summer, however, going that extra mile and openly wearing a swimsuit on holiday or a pair of shorts during the summer wasn’t something I allowed myself to do. I struggled to feel comfortable without my skin being at the forefront of my mind.
I often visualised my body without its patches. My imagination took me to a place where I felt comfortable. I had clear, flawless skin like my friends and was able to wear whatever I liked without preparing my skin with tanner a few days before the weekend. I didn’t struggle during the summer because I had more freedom with what to wear. I chose beach holidays over City breaks because I no longer saw the sun as a hindrance.
Discovering UVB Narrowband Treatment
UVB Narrowband Treatment was suggested to my parents as treatment, when I was 6 years old. In simple terms, this type of treatment entailed standing inside a machine that resembles a tanning booth. Unclothed, you would stand inside for a matter of minutes whilst UVB light filtered across the areas of Vitiligo, stimulating the patches on the skin.
Whilst it was a relatively safe treatment, there was a 1% risk of developing skin cancer at a later stage and so with me being so young, it wasn’t something my parents wanted to risk and so declined to register me as a patient.
Fast forward to my 30th birthday in 2012. More patches had come and gone throughout my lifetime. Social networking had become a ‘way of life’ and so I started connecting with others who had Vitiligo. Others with the condition would discuss anything from makeup to fake tan to how it was being a child that was different. However, the one topic that kept reappearing was people’s experiences with UVB Narrowband treatment. I became curious and carried out my own research, wondering whether it was something that might work for me.
It took just 5 minutes for my GP to refer me
When I arrived at my GP’s surgery, he took a quick glance at my skin and within a matter of seconds he agreed that I could go ahead with treatment. I’ve had longer appointments when I’ve had cough like symptoms! He asked me the usual questions that I’ve spent my entire life answering such as ‘when did it start’? Where was your first patch? Which areas does it affect now? I then rolled up my jeans for him to take a look at my legs, after which he spun round in his chair and typed up a hospital referral letter.
I was very pessimistic; after all, I’d spent alot of my childhood going back and forth to Great Ormond Street hospital, for various treatments that had amounted to nothing. Nevertheless, when I noticed the confirmation letter waiting for me when I got home from work one evening, I felt a sense of excitement. I felt like I was once again about to embark on a lengthy journey that would be one of two things; a major success or a complete disaster….