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Row Erupts in NBA over Alopecia ‘Cancer’ Comment

Charlie Villanueva Hair LossIn the US recently, sports fans attentions have been focused on a row that began on the basketball court but certainly didn’t end there. During an NBA game earlier this month between the Boston Celtics and the Detroit Pistons, a player from the Boston team, Kevin Garnett, was reported to have called Detroit player Charlie Villanueva a “cancer patient.”

Villanueva is well known for suffering from Alopecia Universalis, a non-life threatening hair loss condition which has caused him to lose all hair on his scalp and body. After the game he reacted angrily to the jibe, tweeting, “KG called me a cancer patient, I’m p**ed because, you know how many people died from cancer, and he’s tossing it like it’s a Joke.”

‘Trash talk’, in which players insult each other and try to get a rise out of their opponent, is not unusual in the NBA, but it seems that Garnett’s comments have gone too far, and the row has inflamed popular opinion. Many American sports writers have pointed out the particular insensitivity of the comments, in light of the death of NBA veteran Maurice Lucas from bladder cancer earlier that week.

Charlie Villanueva’s Childhood Struggle with Alopecia

Charlie Villanueva’s alopecia began when he was just ten years old, when his hair started falling out in clumps. By the age of twelve he was bald. Speaking about his childhood he said, “It was hard because kids, they don’t understand what you’re going through. They would make fun of me, so I would get frustrated, but didn’t want to show it.”

Today he is regarded as an inspiration for young sufferers of Alopecia, and is now the national spokesman for the National Alopecia Areata Foundation (NAAF). Using his position as a famous basketball player he has sought to publicise understanding of alopecia, and to help children suffering from the condition.

NAAF_logo“I want these kids to know that just because you have alopecia, alopecia doesn’t have you,” says Villanueva, “I never had anyone to look up to, so I’m trying to give these kids hope. If I can play in front of thousands of people with this disease, it shows kids that you don’t have to hide.”

Alopecia Universalis

Alopecia Universalis is a condition which can develop from the auto-immune disorder Alopecia Areata. With Alopecia Areata, sufferers experience patchy hair loss on their head, and in some cases this can become more widespread, at which point it becomes known as Alopecia Totalis, in which the entire head is bald, or Alopecia Universalis, the loss of all hair on the body and scalp, including eyebrows and eyelashes.

The exact causes of these types of Alopecia remain unknown, but it has been theorised that it may be triggered by shock, stress or trauma.

Alopecia Areata can be stabilised and reversed, using treatment programmes like those offered by The Belgravia Centre, however when it has developed further into Alopecia Totalis or Alopecia Universalis, hair re-growth is less likely.

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