Chaz Frazier was fresh out of college with a degree in broadcast journalism from Arizona State University when he landed a dream first job as weekend sports anchor at the ABC affiliate in Peoria, Illinois. Growing up in San Bernardino, California, Frazier had enjoyed playing basketball and football, and now, through a stroke of good fortune mixed with talent, he’d be making a living covering the world he loved.
However, Frazier’s luck soon began to change when one day he noticed something unusual in his armpit. As a teenager, he says, “I would get these reoccurring lumps under my armpits and sometimes on my lower stomach and groin area. But I wasn’t concerned. I always figured they were just razor bumps or pimples. They’d usually run their course and subside.”
This one, though, was different. It looked more like a boil and showed no signs of going away on its own. His gut instinct told him not to ignore it. He had just arrived in Peoria and was still settling in, but he made a trip to the ER to get it drained. After that, it went away, but soon it came back, along with similar breakouts along his back hairline. “It all went downhill from there,” he says.
“It will look like there is light at the end of the tunnel then–boom!–it will spiral back out of control.”
Embarrassed by the lumps, which had become larger and increasingly painful, Frazier finally went in search of a diagnosis. He was prescribed one antibiotic after another, each one clearing up his skin but only temporarily. Eventually, he saw a dermatologist who prescribed a medication used to treat severe acne. But even that did little good.
“When it started to get bad in my groin and armpit, I had to miss work–either because I had to go to the hospital to get the boil drained or because I couldn’t move,” says Frazier. Just sitting was painful and carrying camera bags all but impossible. After 13 months on the job, he was let go. “I had a three-year contract, but there was a clause that basically said if I was unable to perform my job for an extended amount of time they could let me go,” he says.
After months riding the roller coaster of temporary fixes, Frazier was finally diagnosed with hidradenitis suppurativa (HS), a painful skin condition that tends to affect areas–like the armpits, groin, buttocks, and breasts–where skin rubs together. As he would soon learn, there’s no cure for HS, but surgery and medications can help manage symptoms.
Initially, he turned to a general surgeon in Illinois who had no experience treating patients with HS. When those surgeries proved unsuccessful, he was referred to a plastic surgeon back near his hometown in Redlands, California who specializes in HS cases.
In the year and a half since his diagnosis, Frazier has undergone around a dozen surgeries. “Switching surgeons has made all the difference,” he says. “I’ve gotten somewhat better, but I still need time to see if I’m in true remission.”
Two years into his journey, he sees himself as an HS warrior. “As I walk through my healing process, HS has been anything but cooperative. It will look like there is light at the end of the tunnel then–boom!–it will spiral back out of control and I will go through a horrible flare,” he says. “That can be a common cycle for HS warriors.”His advice for other HS warriors? Become educated about the disease and “keep fighting even when it’s not going your way,” he says. “HS is relentless and doesn’t care when your last flare was.”