A Look Back at My Scleroderma Treatments Over the Years

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by Nicola Whitehill |

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Living the Dream Scleroderma Style

At the start of December, I will be celebrating my 20th year since first dragging my “tin-man” body to the Scleroderma Unit at the Royal Free Hospital in London.

September 2017. (Courtesy of Nicola Whitehill)

The previous year, at the time of my initial diagnosis in September 1997, I was told that I had a 15-month prognosis due to the aggressive attack the diffuse form of the disease was having on my body.

I was also told that there was no cure, and treatments targeted symptom suppression in a “hope for the best” kind of way. The treatments were steroids, chemotherapy, and immunosuppressants.

The year after first hearing those life-changing words, “You have scleroderma,” I took all of the standard treatments in an attempt to suppress disease activity. These medications included hydroxychloroquine, tacrolimus, cyclosporine, methotrexate, prednisolone, omeprazole, amitriptyline, gabapentin, and co-proxamol, among others.

By December 1998, I was in a very bad way. My body was stiff, weak, and in constant, excruciating pain, and my skin was extremely tight.

I then started a new medication regimen that included IV cyclophosphamide infusions, along with mycophenolate mofetil (MMF) tablets.

Thankfully, my name was removed from the stem cell transplant waiting list.

A daily dose of 2 g of MMF for five years stabilized my symptoms. This was stopped in March 2004, upon achieving my personal career goal of being a practicing barrister.

I am now 14 years chemotherapy/immunosuppressant-free. I take bosentan for my Raynaud’s and control my GI symptoms with a strict diet.

My body is still very weak from the effects of chemotherapy. I am super mindful that I have a weakened immune system in the process of repair. I avoid large crowds so as not to be sneezed or coughed on. Any small bug or virus could knock me out for months.

Thankfully, I no longer have the continual nausea that accompanied my chemotherapy experience. But my GI symptoms are a continual daily demand.

My muscles are still very weak and feel as though I have sprinted around the world. I have constant exhaustion from the most basic tasks, such as simply having a bath. My hair is slowly becoming thicker, but it still comes out en masse. I have more silver-colored hairs!

Prof. Chris Denton and me in September 2017. (Courtesy of Nicola Whitehill)

In November 2016, I was delighted to hear Prof. Chris Denton advise me that my skin is cured of scleroderma. I am eternally grateful to Denton and the National Health Service dream team for keeping me alive.

My “tin-man” body, along with chronic fatigue and mobility challenges, remain constant sources of frustration, making symptom management my full-time job.

This year has been particularly challenging for me due to extra complications such as skin cancer, dental issues, calcinosis, and an index-finger ulcer.

(Courtesy of Nicola Whitehill)

However, I know that I am a “lucky” scleroderma patient in the sense that I have minimal internal organ damage and continue to survive, although my full-time job is to look after and respect my symptoms.

During my global patient profile campaigns for Scleroderma Awareness Month in 2017 and 2018, every patient said that Raynaud’s and digital ulcers were continual problems for them.

Other unmet clinical needs that patients have in common include:

This ulcer, which appeared in March, continues to show no sign of clearing. (Photo by Nicola Whitehill)

Telangiectasia is seen in my passport photo, taken last September. (Courtesy of Nicola Whitehill)

For optimal patient care, the following are essential:

I am honored to be a patient research ambassador with the National Institute for Health Research. Check out this video and my recent addition to their “hall of fame.” Medical research provides immense hope for a #SclerodermaFreeWorld.

Recently, I was appointed a patient public voice for specialized dermatology by the National Health Service England’s Clinical Reference Group. I am delighted about this role, and I very much hope to be a valued voice. That position is in addition to my specialized rheumatology role at the same organization, and my part at the European Medicines Agency‘s Committee for Orphan Medicinal Products.

I’m living the dream, scleroderma style.


Facebook: Raynauds Scleroderma Awareness — Global Patients

Twitter: @SclerodermaRF and @RaynaudsRf

Google Plus: Raynauds scleroderma awareness global

Use the hashtags #SclerodermaFreeWorld and #RaynaudsFreeWorld.

Please donate to help fund medical research at the Scleroderma Unit of the Royal Free Hospital, London.

One-hundred percent of raised funds will be used for medical research purposes only. Thank you.



Note: Scleroderma News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Scleroderma News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to scleroderma.


Rebecca Kress-Ives avatar

Rebecca Kress-Ives

What you have gone through is incredible. I’m sitting here in shock. I’m 51 and was just diagnosed through a biopsy with linear Morphea, and had to do a lot of leg work considering so many doctors don’t know what it is. So my journey is just beginning. I begin chemo and prednisone next month. I’m a bit daunted by the whole thing, but....it’s the way it is. I’m inspired by your tenacious spirit. Thank you for the details of your situation.
I will think good thoughts for you.


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