Alopecia: beyond appearances

Diagnosed with alopecia areata universalis, freshman Parker Rexford makes his way through the halls.

Ben Prengler

Diagnosed with alopecia areata universalis, freshman Parker Rexford makes his way through the halls.

Alyson Sudak, Staff Reporter

It’s not cancer. His bald head leads many to think that’s what it is, but it’s not cancer. Freshman Parker Rexford finds himself repeating this statement over and over in response to questioning looks about his lack of hair.

“A lot of people ask me if I have cancer, and it’s kinda weird to explain to them that I have Alopecia, because not a lot of people know about it,” Parker said. “So I guess it’s good for people to find out about it.”

Alopecia is a disease that occurs when a person’s body mistakenly attacks hair follicles, meaning their body is essentially allergic to their own hair, making it fall out, and not grow back for an unknown amount of time.

“We found out he had Alopecia when he was in first grade, in a matter of about 30 days he lost about half of the hair on his head,” Parker’s mom Angie Rexford said. “When I would help him take a bath, since he was young, the bathtub would just be full of hair, so we knew something was wrong, so we took him to the doctor, and in about 45 days, all of his hair, his eyelashes, eyebrows, everything was gone. We soon found Parker has the most severe kind of alopecia called alopecia universalis which affects all the hair on his body.”

Seeing a 15-year-old boy without any hair is not a sight most people are used to seeing; something that has led to some unusual moments when Parker and his family are out and about.

“We’ve been out to dinner and people have paid for our dinner, just assuming he has cancer,” Angie said. “It’s kinda weird, and awkward.”

Parker’s day to day life is much like everybody elses, except for the lack of hair, and an excess of questions.

“I don’t really notice it that much,” Parker said. “It really affects me when people comment on it. It’s kind of hurtful to me when people say ‘Why are you bald?’ and I have to explain it. I just have to tell them that I have Alopecia, and that its a disease where I lose my hair, and let them know its not contagious. They have usually never heard of it.”

Family members and friends see past the disease for whom Parker really is. His twin brother Jackson doesn’t have Alopecia, but he’s one of Parker’s biggest fans.

“My brother is really nice and outgoing, and just fun to be around,” twin brother Jackson  said. “Alopecia has definitely affected how he thinks about himself when he’s around other people, but it doesn’t bother him as much anymore.”

It might have made things easier on Parker if he grew up with someone who also suffered from Alopecia. But even though nobody else in his family has Alopecia, it doesn’t mean Parker is lacking in role models.

“I got the chance to go to a Milwaukee Bucks game and I met Charlie Villanueva, he’s an NBA player who has Alopecia,” Parker said. “I think its pretty awesome. It shows that it’s not really anything to stop you; you can achieve your goals.”

Beyond his will to prevent the condition from slowing him down, Parker also finds the bright side of Alopecia.

“I don’t have to buy shampoo,” Parker said. “I also don’t really have to brush my hair in the morning, obviously, so that’s a benefit.”

While he takes his lack of hair with a humorous spin, his mother believes it provides some valuable life lessons.

“I think it has helped him learn that our appearance is just a part of who we are, and we really are characterized by our actions, and not by the way we look,” Angie said. “He’s very sweet, and the way I try and handle it, as a special education teacher, is the mindset that Alopecia is just hair, you’re not actually sick, so we try and be thankful that there is no sickness involved. People that are really facing challenges are the ones that need to have the compassion and sympathy. This is just hair, we can deal with that.”

To say Alopecia hasn’t had an effect on his life would be far from true. But these days, Parker doesn’t let it faze him.

“I do think it affects the way people look at me, but it doesn’t really matter to me as much anymore,” Parker said. “It used to; I used to think about it all the time, but now it’s just a second thought.