Eczema in Kids: A Chelsea, Michigan Teen Shares Her Story
This chronic skin disease that affects how millions of children feel, think, sleep, look – even what they do and wear. Take a closer look at this condition through a Washtenaw County kid's eyes.
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Sweat is a trigger, making sports tricky. Take soccer. A kid with hay fever out in the field is miserable. Then, add those abrasive shin guards.
That's one reason Jacquelyn had to quit. Volleyball's worked so far – though the kneepads can cause outbreaks. And skiing, which she's done since age 3, isn't too bad. Cold air helps her skin, and she removes layers if she needs to.
Puberty's brought other skin challenges, like shaving and bra elastic.
Her wardrobe has lots of cotton linen. "Sometimes, I try to purposely pick an outfit that doesn't show everything." But this summer, she did start wearing more shorts and tanks – a big step. "I've gotten a lot better about that."
Meeting other kids with eczema has helped. With her mom and older brother Nat, 16, Jacquelyn has attended NEA conferences, which include workshops for parents and a Kids Camp.
"It's just really nice to be around a group of people who know why you're doing this. They know everything."
Mom can't say enough about the NEA being a lifeline, too, like its online support forum, "The Scratch Pad," and long-distance help from staff.
"I've called them over the years and cried," she says. "They're very helpful and supportive and compassionate."
Last April, Jacquelyn attended her first Teen Camp, where she made new friends – and got advice for high school.
"People are gonna be mean and they're gonna say things they don't mean," they told her. More so, she's dreading having to explain, over and over, though she knows she has to.
"You're in charge of the way you take something," she says. "You can be so upset about it and it can bug you. Or say 'whatever.'"
Peers have been unkind in the past. In kindergarten, she recalls, "People wouldn't hold my hands. They thought, 'Oh she looks terrible. If I touch it, I'm going to get it too.' It's not contagious. Still, they didn't want to interact with me. It hurt my feelings. And just made me feel neglected."
Luckily, bullying hasn't been a problem. "I'm amazed: Kids tend to be more forgiving than adults," Froczila says. "I'm surprised with what people at the grocery store say." Like suggesting Jacquelyn use lotion or sunscreen.
"People try to be nice about it," Jacquelyn says. "Just the pity – people say 'I feel bad for you' or 'You poor thing.'" But she'd rather not be defined by it.
A book series called Under My Skin has helped, too. She loves that it shows kids with eczema like hers. It irritates her when ads or websites tiptoe around it.
"That's the truth," she says. "I think that people get scared of the way that we look." But that kind of public awareness is key.
"That brings research dollars," Dunn explains. "There's a misnomer that it's just a little rash. It's much more than that."
She's only 13, but Jacquelyn seems like she's in a great place. "Now that I'm older, I think I'm more accepting that this is the way I am," she says.
Her doctors, family and friends have played a strong role in that.
"They just never were mean to me like some people. They're just a lot nicer about it. I know that they care, and they're going to love me either way."
Says mom, "Her dad and I want her to have as much of a normal childhood as she can, and experience the things that she wants to."
That, of course, comes with future worries. Like dating. "Jackie itches when she is nervous, so I am not looking forward to the nerves," Froczila says. Career choices can be limited, too, based on triggers. But Jacquelyn – who thinks it'd be cool to be a doctor, lawyer or interior designer – doesn't see her eczema as a limiting factor.
"Which is wonderful. And scary," Froczila admits. "An adult has to let go. Your instinct is to always try to fix it or help her.
"She informed me last night that I need to trust her, and she can take care of it."