Last year, while most people were planning for the holidays, Shelia Gray of South Pittsburg was struggling to come to terms with a devastating diagnosis of Alopecia
Affecting only about 2% of the population, Alopecia is an autoimmune disease that causes hair loss from some, or all areas of the body. Alopecia is quite rare, and oftentimes, difficult to diagnose. With no known cure for the condition, a diagnosis can be an emotionally trying experience for those affected.
In her senior year in high school, Gray noticed a bald spot on the top of her head that she hid with certain hairstyles. After graduation, the hair grew back and life went on.
Some 15 years later, after running her fingers through her hair, Gray noticed a bald spot on her head which led to a series of seemingly endless doctors’ appointments. Gray underwent countless biopsies, tests and procedures. She was prescribed with antibiotics, creams, and medications, and she underwent hundreds of painful scalp injections, but nothing worked.
After her diagnosis and the condition progressed to where it became difficult to hide, Gray said she went into a self-imposed isolation. “I did tons of soul searching and I took myself out of the world.”
For months, Gray wore hoodies to hide her hair loss from those around her, too ashamed to let people see what she was going through.
“I spent 30-45 minutes in the shower at times, and I would pull out these big hair balls.”
Gray two young daughters were equally distraught by their mother’s diagnosis. People can be cruel, and Gray and her girls dealt with countless stares, comments and questions. To help them accept her fate, Gray took her girls wig shopping last October. By Christmas, with just one small spot of hair remaining, Gray asked her best friend to shave it off.
After finding ways to come to terms with her diagnosis, Gray decided that she would bravely “come out” to the world through social media. Enlisting the help of a photographer friend, Gray and her girls underwent a photography session. The pictures were placed on Facebook earlier this year for the world to see.
“For me, the treatment didn't work, so I decided to face it and let God do his work,” said Gray.
Even Gray’s daughters overcame their struggles with their mother’s diagnosis, and rather than hide from the condition, the girls now say, “Momma, please don’t wear your wig.”
Gray said that although she has come to terms with her condition, “It’s been so hard. I get stares all the time”. She continued with, “With a lot of praying and support from family and friends, I came to realize this was the new me. Alopecia wasn't changing the person I have always been, it just became a part of my story and my journey,” she said.
No one else in Gray’s family has ever been known to have Alopecia, including her twin sister. Gray explained that although she looks the way she does, she is perfectly healthy. Gray hopes that by sharing her story, she can perhaps help someone else who may be struggling with the same diagnosis, or something similar.
“I truly believe God has plans for us all and He gives his hardest battles to the strongest people. If my story can help at least one person, if it educates someone, if it encourages someone to just be who they are, or if it makes people realize we are all created different and that's okay, then I have done my job!”
Gray closed with a smile, “I am an Alopecican. I am bald and beautiful, and I am me!”