A university professor from Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) has spoken out about her experience with Alopecia Areata and her choice to become completely bald by shaving off her remaining hair.
Cheree Hammond, a faculty member of the Masters in Counselling course at EMU, shaved her head after she became fed up of wispy strands of hair and clumps of hair loss every time she combed her hair.
Cheree was diagnosed with Alopecia Areata at age 12, when she started to notice small bald patches that were, at first, easy to cover.
Her hair loss worsened four years ago, when she lost most of her hair over a ten week period, including her dark brown eyelashes and eyebrows, signifying that her condition had progressed. Hair loss that affects the whole head, including the scalp, eyebrows, eyelashes and any facial hair is a sign of Alopecia Totalis.
This happened during her first year of teaching at EMU, and she says at times she felt like she was “literally falling apart”. She worried students would wonder if she was unwell – and as a counsellor and educator, Cheree did not want such concerns to impact her students’ ability to learn from her.
Support from family and friends
It was at the start of the new semester that Cheree made the brave decision to shave her head. It was an empowering decision, but one which she always assumed would be temporary. However when her Alopecia Areata progressed to Alopecia Universalis, she lost further hair across her body.
After having her head shaved at a local salon and refusing to wear the cap they offered her, Cheree faced her students, explaining to them that she was perfectly healthy, but also had a hair loss condition. Her husband and family understood and supported her decision, although her daughter had a lot of questions.
In her own words
Cheree explains, “So I decided that I was going to shave it. At that point, it was a temporary solution to an upsetting and distracting situation. I thought it would empower me and it did. But I did not think that I would never have my hair back. It is rare for alopecia areata to progress to alopecia universalis, which is the loss of all the hair on your body. That’s what happened soon after.
I taught a class in the morning. Then I went to the salon and they shaved my head. They gave me a little cap that women with cancer wear and I was walking home and I thought, “I really hate this thing and I’m not going to wear this.” I took it off in this kind of slow-motion moment of deciding.
When I was walking to my house, I passed my friend’s house and her little girl was playing out in front. She noticed right away and asked about it. And I said, “Yes, would you like to touch it?” And she felt it and I felt her feeling it. That was the first human contact with somebody that I knew. She was able to voice her curiosity and I was able to experience a response to my choice that was filled with warmth and shared laughter. It was this really lovely moment.
I came back and taught in the afternoon. I felt like I had to say something. Here I was with hair in the morning and no hair in the afternoon. So I said, “Some of you may have noticed I’m bald, I’m OK. I’m not ill.” And then moved on.”
Revealing her identity
Cheree came to realise that hair and makeup can say a lot about a person’s identity – this is something she says she still experiences on a daily basis when people judge her based on her looks. She became very aware of others staring at her, but still says she wouldn’t trade her experience with Alopecia. She has learnt about the perception of illness and had the opportunity to speak to people she may never have met were it not for her hair loss condition.
Being bald is a constant reminder that people are continuously changing, both internally and externally, an observation which Cheree says fills her with hope: “My hair is not a contingency of my happiness. There is nothing that has changed inside.”
This intelligent, educated woman has truly embraced her baldness, and was recently told by her doctor that immunotherapy could bring her hair back. Her response? “I’m not ready for that, I still have a lot to learn from this; there’s a great deal that I still have to gain from this experience.”
The Belgravia Centre
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.
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