It took Rachael Cheung three days before she told her mom her Richmond elementary classmates refused to hold her hand at gym.
When nine-year-old Rachael - who has coped with eczema most of her young life - did finally open up, there were, understandably, floods of tears.
“She kept it to herself for a few days before telling me and then she cried and cried,” recalled her mom, Nancy Cheung.
“As a parent, I just wanted to protect her. I empowered her with love and confidence and told her how strong she was.
“Her teachers, however, were incredible. They had an educational talk with the class about eczema and it really helped.
“But Rachael is nine turning 40; she’s very wise and teaches me things every day.”
That emotional day is captured in a debut book – Pink’s Ink - written and illustrated by the Hamilton mother and daughter team, about Rachael’s struggle with the often debilitating skin condition.
It started three years ago, when Rachael’s eczema, which covered most of her body, was at its peak.
To help express herself, Rachael wrote her feelings in a journal, which formed the basis of the book she and her mom had no idea at the time would happen.
“It was a trying time and Rachael was having some bad episodes and couldn’t sleep at all at night. So we started a project together,” said Cheung.
“Most of the content (of the book) is from her journal entries and about her struggles and feelings.
“Last summer, we finished the book. It was meant to be just for her. But she wanted to share it with her friends.”
It was then that one of Rachael’s teachers said it would be a great teaching resource and encouraged the Cheungs to have it published.
“I really wanted to let people with eczema know that they’re not alone,” Rachael told the Richmond News.
“I wrote what I was worried about and about the things I did to try and help with eczema. I also told people to be brave and not be too bothered about how they look.
“I used to worry about how I look, but I’ve learned that it’s more important about who you are on the inside.”
Rachael said she was nervous reading her book out loud for the first time to her Grade 3 class, before freely narrating it to other Hamilton elementary classes.
“I feel very proud to see it in stores and I get very excited when I see it,” she added.
Asked why she felt the book needed to be published, Cheung said she wanted to clear up the many misconceptions there are over the skin condition.
“It affects all involved. There are so many misunderstandings; even the doctors’ views were all different. Some said she would grow out of it and some gave her steroids. It was a struggle,” said Cheung.
“The more it would flare up, the more it would make her anxious and so on.”
These days, although the eczema is far from absent in Rachael’s life, the condition is now manageable, according to her mom.
“I just started giving her the food she likes and letting her do the things she wanted to do, along with some art therapy,” she said.
To the chuckles of her mom, Rachael told the News that watching TV and indulging in moon mist flavoured ice-cream (blue raspberry, grape and banana) helps distract her.
And she swears moon mist “tastes nice.”
The 34-page book itself centres on an octopus named Pink, which likes to camouflage itself with ink, hence the title, and a reference to Rachael wanting to hide her eczema during her worst flare-ups.
“It was originally for ages three to nine, but I think the book is for anyone struggling with eczema or anyone who wants to be educated about its effects,” added Cheung, who also acknowledged the support of her family’s church, St John’s Richmond, a place where she says Rachael felt the most comforted during her worst days.
“I’m quite a shy person, as is Rachael, so we’re both completely out of our comfort zones with this book. But it’s been so worthwhile.”
Priced at $18.99 (paperback) and $23.99 (hardback), Pink’s Ink is available at Indigo in Richmond Centre and Metrotown and online at Amazon.
Rachael and her mom will also be hosting a book-signing at the Richmond Centre Indigo on March 24 from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.