Scleroderma is an autoimmune disease. Healthy cells are mistaken for unhealthy ones, and the body attacks itself. Not only is scleroderma a difficult name to remember, it is also a Greek word that means: hard skin. Because of the name, people mistake scleroderma for a skin condition.
When a doctor told a patient that he or she had scleroderma, it was usually followed by a statement like: Get you’re things in order, you don’t have long. For a long time, that was true. Now, thanks to research, there are treatments available to help patients survive the progression of scleroderma by treating a patient’s symptoms. Scleroderma is different with every patient. Some have Diffuse Scleroderma or the “fast and furious killer”, or Limited Scleroderma, which progresses slowly and in spurts. Many patients die of complications of this type. Then, there is the overlap kind. In addition to scleroderma, a patient can have another autoimmune disease like Lupus, Fibromyalgia and any of the dozens of other autoimmune diseases that manifest slowly. Often not receiving the proper diagnosis because symptoms have not yet appeared, or the patient’s medical team does not know enough about autoimmune diseases to diagnose properly. Often resulting in the Limbo of illness: Mixed Connective Tissue Disease, or MCTD.
I was diagnosed in 1994, at the Madison Veteran’s Hospital. The Veteran’s Healthcare System was originally designed for aging men. So not only did my medical team have limited research about scleroderma at the time, I was a woman and they really had to work hard to make changes to accommodate my treatment. They did not know I should have immediately been placed in an occupational therapy program to prevent my hands from becoming severely damaged and impaired. They did not know to inform me about symptoms and warning to watch for, so I didn’t have to loose part of my thumb. They didn’t know that my additional symptoms were really sarcoidosis, and not scleroderma symptoms, proven by an outside provider after taking months of ER chest CT scans to UCLA’s pulmonology department, three hours away paid for out of my own pocket and private insurance I could only receive at the time because my husband and I owned a small business, and as an employee could not be turned down because of pre-existing conditions. Yes, many people I met in the 1990’s are surprised to still see me alive.
Now that denying insurance coverage because of pre-existing conditions is now against the law, patients with scleroderma are receiving life-saving and life-extending treatment, but many patients in areas that are not near a major city like Los Angeles, Chicago and Minneapolis, patients are still getting misdiagnosed and dying because of it. How do we solve this problem? With medical provider education and patient education. Of course, money is the biggest help because that funds research and treatment. All of these things are happening, but we can do so much more. Scleroderma needs better marketing.
T-shirts and teal bracelets are not enough. A pretty color, a shirt and accessories is not enough. Scleroderma needs a new name and I have the perfect name. One that embodies the surprise of the uncommon scleroderma symptoms. A name that expresses the pure frustration of scleroderma patients, in addition to the terror they feel when they experience trouble doing something we all do without thinking; like swallowing and breathing. I think you will agree this name, fits.
Scleroderma needs to be renamed, “Whisky-Tango-Foxtrot”.
It’s easier to say, easier to remember and let’s face it, you can’t forget it. It’s obvious why, but I’ll explain it in one simple sentence. It’s easier to Tango or Foxtrot after some whiskey. (By the way, did you know there are two ways to spell whisky?) Not everyone likes whiskey, but who doesn’t like dancing, or watching someone dance? See how easy that is? Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. Rolls right off the tongue. So let’s not just raise awareness, let’s educate and get the word out about this debilitating, progressive and degenerative disease called scleroderma and rename it Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. Because I know when I first heard the word scleroderma the first thing I said was, “sclero-what?”. End sclero-what today, because the best way I know how to express what scleroderma has made me think of the most is, “WTF?”