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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Bald Boogie

We knew it was coming, but it was still a shock when we heard the news.

On Tuesday, my beloved Ms. Conroy was diagnosed with alopecia areata.

When her son was six years old, he lost all of his hair. All of it. Eyebrows. Eyelashes. The hair on his arms and legs.

All of it.

He was, initially, devastated. Then, he (so much like his mother) took the high road, landmarked by ironic Irish humor, and began to call himself, "Elmer Fudd" and then "Mr. Clean."

Adolescence was not easy, but then again, it never is. His God-given self confidence and wonderful sense of humor provided a pathway for his sanity, if not his salvation. Now a grown man with an amazing wife and two beautiful children, he's Mr. Cool. Bald heads on men are now all the rage.

Barbara's mother had wispy thin hair at her death at age 51. Barbara's memory of her maternal grandmother was the same. But, her father had a lustrous, thick mane of hair, which began to gray prematurely in his late 30's.

Since Barbara favors her father in looks and stature and has had thick gray hair since her 30's, we assumed (and hoped against hope) that she had avoided the plunge into that end of the maternal gene pool - at least in terms of her hair.

Alas. 'Twas not to be so.

She has been loosing hair slowly over the past six weeks. In the past two weeks, her hair has been coming out in large, disconcerting handfuls. We've been picking up patches of it from the bathroom floor, her pillow, the back of the chair, and her blouse, sweater and coat.

"Damn!" she said. "And I've been working so hard these past two years to look good." And, she has.

Two years ago in May, she underwent lapband surgery. She has lost 125 pounds and looks absolutely fabulous. She has more energy than ever and while she will always be a true pessimist (which is why I trust her implicitly), her normal "Northern Irish" glum outlook on life has become decidedly brighter.

(I once got her a T-shirt for St. Paddy's day with this quote, taken from William Butler Yeats: “Being Irish, I have an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustains me through temporary periods of joy.'”)

Ironically, her weight loss was probably was the 'stress trigger' to her hair loss.

Sometimes life is just not fair, you know?

Unfortunately, the bald, beautiful heads of Sineah O'Connor, Grace Slick and Iman just don't cut it with our Ms. Conroy.

So, we've been looking at turbans and scarfs and caps. Have you seen pictures of Leontine Price and Eryka Badu? They are HOT in their turbans. I've bought her a few cotton caps and pulled out all my colorful scarfs. We've been having a real fashion show. Indeed, I ordered a turban for myself to wear in solidarity with her.

But, tonight, Ms. Conroy asked me to cut off the rest of her hair. She said it was too stressful to keep pulling out large handfuls of hair and thought it might be a bit easier if her hair were shorter.

My hands are still shaking. I am no beautician and she refused to go to a Hair Salon. I couldn't blame her. I had no idea what I was doing, but you know, it doesn't look half bad. Cute, in an athletic sort of way, and if a 58 year old highly intelligent, competent, professional woman can be described as "cute."

Okay, it's not cancer. She's not losing her hair because of chemotherapy AND dealing with a diagnosis with terminal implications. We are very, very blessed.

Still, a woman's hair is, well, a woman's hair. It's a sign and symbol of her sensuality and sexuality. Remember how shocking it was for the apostles to witness the woman at The Last Supper, anointing Jesus with expensive oil and wiping his feet with her hair? Well, there was a reason they got upset - and the complaints of Judas to the contrary, it wasn't just because the oil was expensive.

Oh, we'll survive. We'll even laugh about it, one day. The way we laugh about so many other things that have happened in our lives. So many other losses. So many other insults to our integrity.

Last night she said, "Gee, once all my hair is gone, I hope I at least have a nice-shaped head. You know, not like Louie Crew. He has this flat part to the back of his head . . ." and then she put her hand on that part of her head and as she took in the shape of her head with the palm of her hand, her face suddenly fell.

I immediately went over and put my hand on the back of her head and confirmed for her what she already knew: She has Louie-Crew-head.

"Just don't stand next to him and it won't look so bad," I offered. She started to giggle and asked, "Do you think people will think we're related?"

"Only if you start to talk with a Southern drawl," I said, as we giggled and laughed, making jokes about she and Louie having been separated at birth. It was a wonderful, light-hearted moment in a time that has been marked by an abiding sense of sadness and loss.

Tanzania? Spanzania! Schism? Schmism! Right now, tonight, the woman with whom I have shared the past 30 years of my life is hurting. All the rest? Details, at best. A less than entertaining distraction, at the very least.

If you or someone you know suffers from alopecia areata, you may find this website from the National Alopecia Areata Foundation helpful

The above picture, entitled, "Bald Boogie" is there. I love the fact that everyone is smiling and having a grand time. We'll get there one day soon.

But tonight, well, not so much.

Here's part of the information you'll find at the NAAF website.

Alopecia areata (al-oh-PEE-shah air-ee-AH-tah) is a highly unpredictable, autoimmune skin disease resulting in the loss of hair on the scalp and elsewhere on the body. This common but very challenging and capricious disease affects approximately 1.7 percent of the population overall, including more than 5 million people in the United States alone. Due to the fact that much of the public is still not familiar with alopecia areata, the disease can have a profound impact on one's life and functional status, both at work and at school.

In alopecia areata, the affected hair follicles are mistakenly attacked by a person's own immune system (white blood cells), resulting in the arrest of the hair growth stage. Alopecia areata usually starts with one or more small, round, smooth bald patches on the scalp and can progress to total scalp hair loss (alopecia totalis) or complete body hair loss (alopecia universalis).

Alopecia areata occurs in males and females of all ages and races; however, onset most often begins in childhood and can be psychologically devastating. Although not life-threatening, alopecia areata is most certainly life-altering, and its sudden onset, recurrent episodes, and unpredictable course have a profound psychological impact on the lives of those disrupted by this disease.

Is alopecia areata hereditary?

Yes, heredity plays a role. In one out of five persons with alopecia areata, someone else in the family also has it. Those who develop alopecia areata for the first time after the age of thirty years have less likelihood that another family member will have it. Those who develop their first patch of alopecia areata before the age of thirty have a higher possibility that other family members will also have it.

Alopecia areata often occurs in families whose members have had asthma, hay fever, atopic eczema, or other autoimmune diseases such as thyroid disease, early-onset diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus erythematosus, vitiligo, pernicious anemia, or Addison's disease.


Jeffri said...

Blessings, Elizabeth and Barbara. And thank you for your candor and humor, they mean a great deal to a great many people, including me. THIS is what our lives are about--the stuff we need to talk about. Spanzania and Schmism, indeed!


Share Cropper said...

To laugh or to cry or to do both? We can usually survive the big things in life like schisms and CANA, but it's the personal ones that get us. Love to you both!

Grandmère Mimi said...

Elizabeth, I will pray for Barbara, and for you, too. Yes, a woman's hair is called her crowning glory, so it's a great loss, but it's the glory of the Lord shining round about Barbara that makes her beautiful. And in the eyes of those who love her she will always be beautiful.

One day you shall laugh; I know that. A sense of humor can take you far.

May the peace of God, which passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Suzer said...

My thoughts and prayers go out to Barbara as she deals with alopecia and also to you, Elizabeth, as you provide love and support for her. While not life threatening, I can imagine the emotional distress that must accompany such a diagnosis.

My partner and I watched the documentary "Grey Gardens" last night, and were intrigued by Little Edie Beale's "unique" sense of style with turbans and head coverings. She remained decidedly beautiful, despite the fact she had lost her hair.

Though I don't know Barbara other than through your descriptions of her, I would bet she has the strength and humor to find her beauty with or without hair.

Blessings to you both...

Susan :)

Eileen said...

((((Elizabeth and Barbara)))))

My dad, who has been balding since his early 20's always tells me, that God only made a few perfect heads, the rest he covered with hair. What can I say? We're Irish, and so, boasting combined with self-deprecation is our forte!

Prayers for you both ascending immediately. I agree with Mimi - it's the small things that are often felt most keenly. The big things are, well, big, and so, we expect the big feelings that go with them, and we are prepared. The smaller things always blindside us with their biggness, and catch us unawares.

muerk said...

My aunt had gastric bypass surgery and she too lost her hair. Hers did regrow, but all curly.

Hugs for you guys.

Bill said...

I think it makes her look younger and that is not a bad thing. I love Barbara even though she tells me I read like a Roman Catholic during evening prayers. I'm looking for some cute little French berets in different colors (colours if you're MP)for her. Life has a fair number of twists and turns before the end. Get off the road, have some coffee and donuts, perk-up, and get back to driving. With your spirit and your wealth of friends, I have no doubt but that you'll be just fine. God Bless

Magdalene6127 said...

Well, that is very tough indeed. My hearts go out to you both. So glad to hear the humor and tenderness with which you are both greeting this challenge.

Blessings, Prayers and Love,


dana said...

Elizabeth - my husband, the most wonderful priest I know, has alopecia - he had it in patches for years, but 5 years ago it ALL came out. Everywhere - no hair. It is hard - he had a REALLY bad comb-over-all-around for just a little while, until we shaved it. I will pray for Barbara - it's hard, and took my man a while to settle into his new look.

Love, Dana

MadPriest said...

This might be of slight interest to you and yours

JimMollo said...

I'm always a few days behind on your blog... you seem to have extra hours in the day that the rest of us don't. I always think I shouldn't post it because it's so late that no one ever goes back and reads what I write... but too bad - I'm posting anyway.

It was wonderful doing laying-on-of-hands with you and Barbara. I keep having this image of the folicles popping out fresh hairs knowing that there is a community praying for each one of them.

God grant us peace... and hair. Amen!