Monday, April 30, 2012

Hair Assault

A good friend of mine has lost his hair. All of it.

"A lot of people have come up and asked me how my chemo treatments are coming. I appreciate their nurturing and concern, but I have to tell them, this is something entirely different," he says.

How different? It's called Alopecia Areata, and is an unexplained autoimmune related disease. Here's a link to the National Foundation. Apparently, Alopecia is more common in young people and children, but my friend is a grandfather.

"The hair loss happened about eight months ago, over a period of two to three weeks. I was on the phone with my daughter in California and sent her some photos. She said to my grandson, who's about nine, 'Robert, come and see these pictures of Grandpa.' Then I heard, 'Oooo, I knew he was losing his hair, but that's worse than I thought.' My other grandson, even younger, came in the room and there was dead silence. Then: 'Oh. My. God.'"

Once in the grocery store, his grandson spotted Mr. Clean and said: "Hey, he looks like Grandpa, except Mr. Clean has eyebrows."

Not only is my friend bald, he has no eyebrows, eyelashes, body, ear and nose hair. How did this come about? He says his autoimmune system decided hair follicles were the enemy and made an all-out assault. For many, it's more spotty, but my friend has a severe case.

"Hair is pretty useful," he tells me, "and yeah, I kinda miss it. You could look at it in terms of agriculture. It's a cover crop. The cold head is something that's taken some getting used to."

He never really got into hats before, but now he's bought a bunch of them.

"So what has hair loss taught you?" I ask.

"I suppose having a reasonable head of hair, it is a part of your persona. My facial hair is gone now, and it's taken a bit of an adjustment. I look in the mirror and ask: 'who is that person?' There's the aspect that hair and eyelashes make some sense. Hair in the ears and nose serve a kind of filtering function, and we'll see how it goes without that over time. Another thing that's happened is that my fingernails and toenails have started to degrade. To pick things up now, I have to get out the tweezers."

Is his hair loss permanent? He says it's unpredictable. His dermatologist tells him it might come back or it might not, or, it might come back and then disappear again.

"I will say this, I've spared myself time and money once spent combing and washing and going to the barber. That's one of my biggest regrets in this whole thing. I got my hair cut just a week or so before my hair started to go. It went so fast, I should have gone back to my barber and said: 'Tom, what was that stuff you put on my head last time?' But I would let him off the hook without making him squirm too much. Maybe I will stop in and see him. He's probably been wondering what happened to me. I also have a reunion coming up, and it will be interesting to see the reactions. Some of my oldest friends do the biggest double takes. I'll have some fun with it, because what else can you do?"