In her book, "Just Your Average Teenager Who Happens to be Bald," 14-year-old Olivia Rusk shares stories about alopecia and how she turned her hurdle into a platform to encourage acceptance and prevent bullying. In this excerpt, she reminisces about the moment she started going bald.
Hey. How’s it going? Awesome. Well, you probably looked at the cover of this book, and Hey. How’s it going? Awesome. Well, you probably looked at the cover of this book, and assumed the girl on the cover had cancer. I get that all the time and I am totally fine with that. I realize that people see a bald person, and think they have cancer. Now, I don’t have anything against people who assume I have cancer, in fact it doesn’t phase me at all. But I am very fortunate to not have cancer. My condition is alopecia. “ Alo-what?!” Exactly, I know what you’re thinking. “Omg what’s alopecia?” “I’ve never even heard of that!” “Sounds like a form of cancer.” Trust me, I get that all the time. Well, I am not sick or anything, my body just thinks my hair is a germ, it attacks it, and it falls out. My immune system is over active, so in some ways I am lucky because I do not get sick very often.
I first got alopecia when I was only 18 months old, so I was just a baby. I am an only child and my mom woke up, one morning and noticed that I was losing my hair. She thought, “Oh, my gosh, what is happening to my little girl? Is she dying or something?” So she rushed me to the doctor. They sat her down and said “Sandy, your daughter has alopecia. We don’t know why she has it and we do not know if she will ever re-grow her hair, we don’t know if she will be bald for the rest of her life, we just don’t know.” She was just like “What? You’re a doctor, you are suppose to be able to tell me what is going to happen to my daughter.” She learned that there are three types of alopecia. Alopecia Universalis where you do not have hair on your whole body, there is Alopecia Areata which is the most common and you have hair but you might have random spots of hair loss, then there is Alopecia Totalis where you will have normal body hair but no hair on your head. The unique thing about me is that I have had all three types.
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So as time went by, my mom was always hoping I would re-grow my hair. When I was 18 months old I had no hair on my head, but had eyelashes and eyebrows, like I do now, so it was Alopecia Totalis. From age 2 to 4 I began to re-grow my hair. My mom was like “Awesome, my daughter is re-growing her hair! Now she can go to school and kids will love her, she’s going to be popular, and life will be just swell. ” My hair was a beautiful blonde color with dark undertones, which was the perfect mixture of my mother’s blonde hair, and my father’s brown hair. Now, my alopecia was not completely gone. I still had spots with hair missing that would randomly change every now and then. When I started pre-school I had shoulder length blonde hair and even with the spots of hair missing, just the fact that I had some hair made both my mom and I ecstatic. On the first day of school, I felt as though I was the bee’s knees, the ‘it girl’, and all because I now had hair just like all of the other pretty girls. My mother dressed me in a red and black plaid dress, white socks, black and white oxford shoes, matching back pack, and a black headband, which was necessary to hide my bald spots. My mom seemed so proud that she was able to create such a ‘beautiful and normal child’, well in her words.
I always thought as a child that if I had some hair, then it wouldn’t matter if I had bald spots. Well, when I had just started 3rd grade, I was 8 years old, and my hair started to fall out for a second time. I started 3rd grade and like each year, my mom met with my teacher to talk about the situation with my hair. Now for alopecia, there is no ‘cure’, but people can try and use just normal hair growth medicines, and that’s what my mother thought she could do with me. She assumed and hoped that if she spent all the money she had to help her daughter be normal, then it would be worth it. All the adults in my family and at the elementary thought the best idea was to inform kids that I might not have hair in a week or so, even though I could care less. My teacher mentioned the fact that I had alopecia, and everyone seemed to be fine with it. But my mom, being the mother she is, was always worried. She would ask me “Are the other kids asking questions about your hair?” or “Has anyone been mean to you?” On Halloween we went trick or treating with my aunt, uncle, cousins and some of their friends. A lady that happened to be with us, asked my mother if I had cancer because of my hair loss. I don’t think my mother had realized how much hair I had lost, until someone else noticed. And that day, I think that my mother knew that her perfect little baby would soon be bald, again.
Find more information about Olivia's book "Just Your Average Teenager Who Happens to be Bald" and her cause at OliviasCause.org
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