Chasing the Cure Recap, Episode 9: Two Women Find Answers

The team seeks a diagnosis for Jennifer and Cathy, and checks in with Tessra’s progress


In the October 10, 2019 episode of Chasing the Cure. we met two women from very different parts of the country. Both had been living with their symptoms for years – one, with multiple dermatofibromas all over her body, the other with a cough that couldn't quit for 28 years.

Let’s have a look at how the Chasing the Cure team worked to unravel these women’s mysterious medical conditions. 

Case File: Jennifer
At 30 years old, Jennifer simply wants answers. She's been living with multiple dermatofibromas all over her body since she was 17, and countless specialists have been unable to tell her what's causing her condition. She thought it might be linked to a tattoo she got when she was 16, but no one's been able to establish a link.

Now, Jennifer feels limited in what she can do with her husband and boys. She doesn’t go out much because she doesn’t want people to see what she looks like. She wears long-sleeved shirts year-round. She's also terrified that she could pass whatever condition she has along to her boys, but her insurance refused to pay for genetic testing that would give her a much-needed answer.

The Chasing the Cure physician team was curious whether Jennifer's previous breast cancer diagnosis had anything to do with her current condition. They were most curious about a possible autoimmune disease and wanted more information on her dermatofibromas themselves. They sent her to see Dr. Wendy Roberts, a dermatological pathologist.

The good news is that Dr. Roberts was able to give Jennifer a diagnosis: Jennifer has multiple eruptive dermatofibromas. This is an extremely rare condition, and only three to five percent of patients with dermatofibromas have this exact condition.

Jennifer's body responded to multiple stressful incidents – the tattoo, multiple pregnancies, her breast cancer – by weakening her immune system. This caused the condition she has. The best news? It’s not hereditary. She can't pass it on to her kids.

Jennifer’s now on a path to treating her skin, boosting her body’s immune system through a consult with a nutritionist and treatments with a fractional CO2 laser to minimize the appearance of her lesions.

Case status: Diagnosed, treatment in progress

Jennifer's story was first featured on episode 9 of Chasing the Cure


Case Update: Tessra
Tessra has been working with the Chasing the Cure team to combat the steroid-induced Type 2 diabetes from unusual mouth lesions. Since we last saw her, Tessra met with an immunologist who’s been able to give her not just one, but two diagnoses for her conditions.

Tessra’s suffering from autoimmune angioedema (which explains her swelling) and pemphigus vulgaris (a rare condition that explains her mouth blisters).

Having these diagnoses puts Tessra on a path to treatment, which includes coming off the steroids that have given her so much trouble and managing her autoimmune conditions so she can get back to the active life she enjoyed.

Tessra's story was first featured on episode 7 of Chasing the Cure

Case File: Cathy
Cathy is 65 years old and lives in Kileen, Texas, with her husband. She served in the Army for 15 years, including a tour of duty in the first Gulf War.  As a chemical weapons specialist, Cathy’s job in the Army was of the utmost importance — managing a unit that maintained chemical weapons.

And while Cathy came back from the Gulf unscathed, she brought back an unwelcome souvenir: a cough that hasn't subsided for 28 years and the loss of nearly all her hair. Specialists haven't given her answers, and she's afraid that without a diagnosis, she's going to find out she has cancer when it's too late to do anything about it.

The Chasing the Cure physician team sprung into action. They wanted to explore whether Cathy’s dry cough could be the result of silent reflux. They also wanted imaging on her sinuses to see if nasal drip could be a trigger for her coughing. They hoped to be able to diagnose her hair loss along the way as well.

Dr. Raj Dasgupta, a pulmonologist on the CTC team, took Cathy’s case personally. As luck would have it, Cathy is cancer-free and does indeed have reflux, or GERD, causing her constant, dry cough. Dr. Dasgupta reviewed Cathy's GERD medications with her and put her on a twice-a-day regimen to get her reflux under control. She'll also be pursuing a proton pump inhibitor regimen to assist with treating her GERD.

Cathy’s also been diagnosed with alopecia areata, which explains her hair loss. She'll be working with a dermatologist to explore treatments.

And Cathy, who always loved to sing, just might find her voice again once her treatments progress and her cough subsides. Her diagnosis definitely had her smiling.

CATHY's story was first featured on episode 9 of Chasing the Cure

Now, don’t forget to tune in to next week’s season finale of Chasing the Cure. New cases, updates and a look ahead – that’s what’s waiting on next week’s episode.

E. Napoletano is an award-winning journalist and the recipient of the 2019 Illinois Women’s Press Association first-place prize for her feature on the traumatic effects of family separation policies at the border.