People don’t tend to ask straight off the bat. They’ll stare for a while and pretend they’ve not noticed, but they put out a few feelers by enquiring as to our good health. Then, they’ll isolate one of us, usually me, perhaps after a drink or two, and say “Yeah, so what’s wrong with your husband?” Sometimes, I go in for shits and giggles and adopt a blank stare. “Nothing, why do you ask?”
But of course I know exactly why they ask.
He used to take longer to style his hair than I did mine. When we first met, his “look” was brown hair with bleached tips, twisted and cemented into spikes with much, much VO5 Style Rework. He was always bloody shaving as well, which again took forever, and he didn’t clean the sink afterwards. He had started to go grey though, just a few little stubborn fuckers in his sideburns, but I took great delight in pointing these out because he’d caught the train to Greytown before me. One day, about six years ago, he let his beard grow out for a few days and I noticed a tiny tiny patch of pink skin where the hair hadn’t grown back. “That’s so weird! Lazy hairs.” We didn’t give it another thought, until a week later, when we spotted a 5p sized area on his crown that, out of nowhere, was completely bald. 5p grew to 10p, and in a matter of days these circles of bare skin were all over his scalp. The rest of his barnet was fairly long and so I was able to painstakingly “style” it with product to cover up the bald patches as best I could.
Within a fortnight, by his own admission, he looked like a stag do prank that had gone wrong. By now, we suspected alopecia although we hadn’t had it confirmed. A friend offered to “bic it”, just to tide him over until the hair loss stopped and the re-growth started. So, off he went to his friend’s apartment, with a woolly hat for the return journey (it was December). When he came through the door and took his hat off, I think we were both trying very hard not to cry. They’d tried to shave it into a very close crop, but the bald parts were so striking that they didn’t feel they had much choice other than to take it all off.
That would have been bad enough, just the hair on his head. But no, over the next few days, his body purged itself of every single hair he had. Legs. Arms. Armpits. Nethers. Chest. Then, absolutely worst of all, eyebrows and eyelashes. “I look like a cancer patient, don’t I?” he asked. What could I say? He kind of did. He has pale skin and very blue eyes so combined with total hair loss, and winter weather, he did look just on the wrong side of unwell.
The doctor ran a full blood screen and referred him to a dermatologist, and then a rheumatologist, as he had also begun to experience symptoms of Raynaud’s – a condition whereby blood flow to extremities is excessively reduced in response to a drop in temperature or stress on the body. Physically, aside from this, he was at his prime – running miles and miles every week, cycling to work most days, weight training, meat-free Mondays, non-smoker, you get the idea. The blood tests came back looking positively delightful, confirming his overall health. The GP was baffled, but the dermatologist was slightly more brazen. “You have Alopecia Universalis. A complete hair loss condition, top to toe. It’s the most rare of all alopecia types, and the least likely in terms of your hair growing back. I’m sorry.”
We were due to be getting married in a few months’ time and my husband was distraught at looking like “an idiot” in the photos. He was also slightly traumatised by the idea of having to greet 80+ people, on his wedding day, without having seen some of them since pre-hairloss. He considered getting a wig, but we couldn’t help thinking of silly cartoon parodies of men with a dead squirrel on their heads, and a lopsided one at that. Plus, the lack of eyelashes and eyebrows were most striking. How about semi-permanent make up and falsies? Trust me – no man approaching thirty should have to consider those things in a serious context just to appear “normal” on his wedding day. We drip fed it out to our social circle and light heartedly warned people that he might look a bit different, hahaha. Let’s throw false humour at it, because we sure as hell don’t have anything else.
Now, I KNOW how lucky we are that he is not, despite appearances, a cancer victim. We’ve had periodic blood tests and he remains, to all intents and purposes, as fit as a fiddle. We’ve always maintained that if every person has something wrong with them, seen or unseen, and having no hair is his lot in life, then we could be a great deal less fortunate.
But still. Did you know that eyebrows, eyelashes, ear hair and nose hair actually serve a pretty key purpose, they’re not just there by accident? Nose and ear hair stops infection from entering the body quite so easily, and when you have a bad cold, the hairs in your nostrils catch the mucus (eurgh) to stop it from literally streaming out of you (double eurgh). Eyelashes protect the eyes by forming a fluttery barrier around them and catching dust particles and the like. Eyebrows act like a shelf, performing the same action from above. For a runner, the loss of all these things combined with the onset of Raynaud’s can make the whole experience of being out in the elements deeply unpleasant.
He will make jokes about it to Mouse, asking her to style his hair and dry it with my hairdryer. She is so lovely – rather than saying “but you’ve not got any hairs, Daddy”, she’s now learnt to play along and will tell him that his hair is very stripey and it needs a really good comb. Interestingly, if we show her a photo of Daddy with a full mane, she knows that it’s him, straight off the bat. Not bad considering that she can’t even bloody identity me in our wedding group shot!
So, to answer your question. He hasn’t got cancer, because I know that’s what you’re assuming. He’s not ill. He’s just very unlucky. I’ll predict your next sentence too, because 8 times out of 10 this is what people will utter in response: “Isn’t he lucky to have such a lovely shaped head though? Most people couldn’t carry off that look.” I smile inwardly when people say that – it’s the human condition to try and extract a grain of positivity in any shitty sitation and put a big, fat beacon on it. Yes. He has got a lovely shaped head. And he’ll never go grey. And he saves loads of money on haircuts and styling products. And if the plug gets blocked, we know who the culprit is. All of these things.
-SJW July 2016
This was published by The Huffington Post on Thursday 14th July. Feel free to give it some love over here.