I recently decided to accompany my sister to her biweekly phototherapy treatment for the very first time! (If you haven’t seen my previous blog regarding this topic, the function of phototherapy is to restore pigment to areas of the skin affected by vitiligo.)
Upon reaching the front desk, a friendly employee greeted us and directed us to the lobby, where we waited for my sister’s nurse. Finally, the nurse––we’ll just call her K––greeted us and let us inside to the room. I became quite apprehensive when I saw the warning sign on the outside of the door signaling that phototherapy was in progress. I knew from the extensive research I’d done after my sister’s diagnosis that phototherapy consisted of UV-B rays being directed onto the skin. I also knew from our unit on light in my Physics Honors class that UV rays could cause cancer. The last thing my family needs right now is my little sister getting skin cancer, I thought grimly. However, K noticed my anxious face, which prompted me to ask whether this treatment could cause cancer. To my relief, she assured me that phototherapy consisted of the relatively safe UV-B rays rather than the dangerous UV-A rays that cause cancer.
My little sister sat in the medical chair while K turned on the phototherapy machine. Then K gave me a pair of goggles, and I watched, transfixed, as she shone a flashlight-shaped object on each of my sister’s spots and pressed a button, as and the machine elicited a high-pitched beep. About thirty seconds later, K straightened up and put the equipment away. Wait, I thought, is that it? That doesn’t look painful at all! However, from my endless stream of questions as we walked from the clinic back to the car, I realized how wrong I was. My sister told me that, although she’d kept a straight face in the clinic, her skin had stung severely with every beep of the machine. Furthermore, her spots, previously white, turned a bright, splotchy red hue in less than an hour. And the next morning, we woke up to find blisters on the areas where she’d been treated.
However, on a positive note, today we found an affected area that’s begun repigmenting! We are super excited about this, for this means that the treatment, though painful, has been working! Although the repigmentation is just a small spot of melanin in the center of the large white patch on her chin, I’m hopeful that this treatment will eventually restore the pigment for my sister’s entire body!