â€˜Skincare Is My Self-Careâ€™: How a Beauty Blogger Manages Eczema
As an owner of two small businesses and the mother of two boys, Brittney Roche has her hands full. But the 30-year-old from San Diego wouldnâ€™t have it any other way.
â€œPayton is such a cool kid,â€ says Roche of her older son. â€œHe is supersweet, super caring about everybody. He loves his friends, and heâ€™s a good big brother.â€
By comparison, her younger son is more of a wild child. â€œNixon is so crazy,â€ says Roche. â€œHe is strong willed. Heâ€™s sweet, but he is feisty.â€
Both boys have atopic dermatitis, the most common type of eczema, and were diagnosed when they were still in diapers. But their experiences have been very different. What Roche and her husband, Joshua, learned while helping Payton navigate severe eczema has helped them keep Nixonâ€™s skin condition under control.
â€˜Mom, Why Me?â€™ Watching as Eczema Impacts Your Son
Payton was diagnosed with eczema at 4 months old, but he started to show signs as soon as he was born. At first, Roche and her husband were able to manage it with lifestyle approaches, such as switching to unscented soap, lotion, and laundry detergent; modifying Rocheâ€™s diet while breastfeeding; and, later, modifying Paytonâ€™s diet to avoid potential food triggers and allergens.
By the time Payton was a toddler, his eczema became severe. â€œIt was pretty much from head to toe,â€ describes Roche. â€œIt was on his scalp and all the way to the creases in his toes.â€
They tried various topical medications, but nothing helped control Paytonâ€™s open eczema lesions.
For school-age Payton, that meant taking extra precautions. Roche wrapped his skin in gauze to contain the oozing and bleeding and prevent infection. She taped cotton gardening gloves to his hands to stop him from scratching. Roche recalls regularly picking up Payton from school early because his eczema was so bad.
As Roche describes it, this affected Paytonâ€™s ability to have a normal childhood. â€œSleepovers, going swimming, playing in the dirt â€” just normal things that kids do, he couldnâ€™t do,â€ she says, â€œbecause that meant he likely would get an infection, and it just wasnâ€™t worth it.â€
She also started seeing signs of emotional stress in him, such as anxiety and depression. â€œFor a really long time, he would be like, â€˜Why does God do this to me? Why did God give me eczema? I canâ€™t take this anymore.â€™â€
Roche has taken Payton to a counselor and enrolled him in a resiliency program. Sheâ€™s taught him to focus on his good qualities and how strong he has been throughout his journey. Sheâ€™s made a point of doing fun activities together. â€œI tried to do everything to help his mental health, because that was really struggling,â€ she says.
â€˜I Was So Overwhelmedâ€™: Eczemaâ€™s Impact on the Parent
A parent never wants to watch their child struggle â€” and Roche was doing whatever she could to help. â€œI didnâ€™t sleep. I was exhausted. I was so stressed out,â€ she says.
To top it all off, Roche was navigating this all on her own. Her husband is in the U.S. Navy, and when he was deployed, â€œIt was 100 percent solely on me,â€ she says. â€œWe had so many doctorâ€™s appointments. I was so overwhelmed. I couldnâ€™t have a job, because I couldnâ€™t leave Payton [with anyone else].â€
The weight of it all and the helplessness of watching her older son struggle became so much that Roche says her own anxiety and depression worsened. â€œI felt constantly, every day, like I canâ€™t do this anymore.â€
A Clinical Trial Offers Hope â€” and Healing
When Roche and her husband decided to attend their first National Eczema Association expo with Payton, their main goal was to give their older son a chance to meet other kids his age with eczema to help him feel less alone. For the first time, the three of them connected with other families who understood what they were going through.
But thatâ€™s not all they got out of the expo. This was the moment that changed everything for Payton and his family: The Roches learned about a promising new treatment option with a clinical trial for children ages 6 to 11.
â€œIt was kind of a gamble,â€ says Roche, â€œbut for how promising it was, we were like, â€˜Okay, letâ€™s do it. Letâ€™s take the risk.â€™â€
The trial was blind, which means they didnâ€™t know if Payton was getting the medication or the placebo. That is, until about three weeks after he received his first treatment, when his skin started to clear. â€œWe started to see a huge change in his skin,â€ Roche says. â€œIt was like watching healing happen.â€
Taking Back Paytonâ€™s Childhood
Before Payton started the trial, his body was about 90 percent covered with eczema lesions, says Roche. Today, heâ€™s at about 30 percent. Whatâ€™s more, the skin thatâ€™s affected is only dry and red, whereas it used to crack and ooze. â€œIâ€™ll take that any day over what it used to be,â€ she says.
With calmer skin, Payton has reclaimed his childhood. He can now swim, play outside and get dirty, and attend sleepovers with friends. â€œ[Our lives have] changed for the better, because my son has a quality of life that I didnâ€™t know was possible,â€ says Roche. â€œWe have a quality of life, as a family, that I didnâ€™t know was possible.â€
Two Brothers With Very Different Eczema Journeys
Paytonâ€™s little brother, Nixon, started showing signs of eczema as a baby, too. But thatâ€™s where the similarities in the boysâ€™ stories end. â€œNixon has never seen a day with real tough eczema like Payton,â€ Roche says.
Early on, Roche and her husband enrolled Nixon in a clinical trial for babies for a topical nonsteroidal medication. While successful at first, the medication eventually stopped working. The Roches then decided to try Nixon on a new treatment regimen, even though it meant paying out of pocket. â€œThatâ€™s the thing about eczema,â€ she says. â€œEczema is so expensive.â€
The good news is, the new treatment regimen worked. Not only that, but it has also allowed Nixon not to require medication every day; he uses it only as needed for flares.
Hopefully, things will keep looking up for Payton and Nixon.
â€œMy hopes for my boys with their eczema journey,â€ says Roche â€œis that it never gets worse than what it is now â€¦ that Paytonâ€™s never goes back to what it was â€¦ and that Nixon never has to know what thatâ€™s like.â€
All images provided by Brittney Roche
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