The kind of hair loss caused by the autoimmune disorder Alopecia Areata is not something you can easily shy away from when you’re a professional sportswoman, but rugby ace Heather Fisher is taking things a step further by embracing her condition as a way to help others.
Fisher, 32, is no stranger to opening up about her baldness, and a new interview with CNN really helps to explain her motivations. “Hopefully, my voice can make a change in just one person,” she says.
Alopecia in mid-20s
Fisher’s Alopecia Areata began relatively recently, when she was in her mid-20s, and doesn’t appear to be the result of the turbulent teenage years she describes to CNN (extreme stress is one of several suspected Alopecia Areata ‘triggers’).
She tells the news channel’s website: “My parents went through a divorce at the time and I lost contact with my Dad. I had no control over my life. It was all so wrong and I was angry inside, and the only thing I could control was to not eat.”
Not eating led to dramatic weight loss, something that Fisher knew had become a problem when her mum remarked how skinny she had become when seeing her in the bath.
Fisher says she knew she needed help, and that she was frustrated by her inability to control the thoughts that were going on in her head. One doctor, whose name she can’t remember because she ended up seeing so many, told her that she couldn’t be an athlete if she didn’t eat.
These turned out to the the words that turned everything around. Since school Fisher had known that she wanted to be a professional sportswoman, and she suddenly had the incentive to start looking after her body. In the ensuing years she excelled at bobsleigh, but ultimately returned to rugby, a sport she had loved since she was a girl.
Losing your hair to an autoimmune disorder is always distressing, as it comes with a double blow. Not only is it a shock to see your hair suddenly and rapidly falling out, but there isn’t a single person who can tell you how long it will last, if it will get worse or if it will heal… only to come back in six months or two years. As well as stress, other suspected triggers for the disease are sudden trauma – such as a car accident – seasonal changes, infections, skin injuries and allergies.
When it comes to Alopecia Areata treatment, there are a range of options, from steroid injections to topical immunotherapy, with varying rates of success. At Belgravia, our specialists have found that tailoring a bespoke treatment course featuring appropriate formulations of high strength minoxidil and including various additional hair growth boosters, as required, can produce significant results for adults with the mild to moderate form of alopecia areata which causes patchy hair loss to the scalp only.
More severe versions of alopecia areata – namely, Alopecia Totalis and Alopecia Universalis where the shedding takes the form of total baldness to the whole head and whole head and body, respectively – cannot be treated in this way. The treatment options for these conditions are currently extremely limited and widely acknowledged as being largely unsuccessful.
Work hard, be brave
Today, Fisher admits to being in something of a limbo following team GB narrowly missing out on the bronze medal in women’s rugby at the 2016 Rio Olympics. “I’m still in that post-Rio dip,” she tells CNN. “I came away thinking, ‘Is this it?’. You don’t know where to place yourself and I want to put things to bed, but I can’t.”
While life for Fisher doesn’t sound either straightforward or simple – she points out that she is often mistaken for a man and that this “never gets any easier – there is no doubt that she knows a little positivity can go a long way. Fittingly, she is an ambassador for the UK charity Alopecia UK, and she tries to live by her motto: “Work hard, be brave, believe in yourself.”
She knows her positivity is making a difference, she says, when a random youngster comes up to her on holiday and tells her she is brave. “You just want to help or inspire one person,” says Fisher. “That’s the goal.”
The Belgravia Centre is the leader in hair loss treatment in the UK, with two clinics based in Central London. If you are worried about hair loss you can arrange a free consultation with a hair loss expert or complete our Online Consultation Form from anywhere in the UK or the rest of the world. View our Hair Loss Success Stories, which are the largest collection of such success stories in the world and demonstrate the levels of success that so many of Belgravia’s patients achieve. You can also phone 020 7730 6666 any time for our hair loss helpline or to arrange a free consultation.