When my youngest son was four years old he lost all his hair to an autoimmune disorder called Alopecia Areata. Over the course of a month all of his beautiful red curls fell out, then his eye lashes and eye brows. My heart broke on a daily basis. But he was four, and hair to a four-year-old is not necessarily a concern. When a classmate at the snack table in preschool asked if he’d gotten a haircut, he looked confused until another classmate spoke up and said, “Nah, Ian’s hair fell out.” Everyone went back to their juice and animal crackers unalarmed.
As a parent you begin imagining your child’s life when you first see those two pink lines, perhaps even earlier if you’re a true romantic. I couldn’t imagine what elementary school would be like for my newly bald child. Or maybe the problem was that I could imagine it – teasing, bullying, heartbreak. For a few months we stayed in, but then it became obvious that the hair would not be re-growing so we resumed our life with our three kids, but I hovered close to my youngest ready to defend him at the slightest provocation.
While my husband was traveling, the kids and I ventured out for dinner one night at the local pizza shop. We snuggled into a booth and I tried not to notice the obvious stares of the other patrons. The kids were oblivious to anything odd and happy to be out to dinner for the first time since Ian’s diagnosis. When it was time to pay, I left the kids in the booth and went to the cashier. She told me not to worry, our check was already paid. I didn’t understand, but she assured me another patron had taken care of our check and wished my little boy well. I stumbled back to collect my children and made for the exit. Driving home it finally dawned on me that the kind person who paid our check must have thought Ian had cancer.