Awareness

By Jordan McNeil

During the first week of classes, my professors did the usual “go around and introduce yourself” gig. My fiction craft and theory professor, however, added a new element — he asked us to share something we’re passionate about in addition to name, major, etc.

He clarified that he wanted to know more than “I love goats,” which was my original idea for a response. He wanted to know what kept us up at night thinking, what made our blood boil, what we would fight for.

Obviously, it’s possible, even likely, to have more than one thing that you’re passionate about. Getting invested in an idea, a person, a cause is part of being human and part of being a member of society. There are various issues I have strong thoughts about, but there was one cause in particular I wanted to share that first day of class: spreading awareness of alopecia areata.

Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease that affects the hair follicles — the immune system sees them as something to fight and creates the antibodies to fight them, causing various stages of hair loss.

This disease affects more than 6.6 million people in the United States alone, according to the National Alopecia Areata Foundation. They also estimate that 147 million people worldwide have, had or will develop alopecia areata.

This is a considerable number — and yet, people affected, their families, their friends are still fighting for awareness of the disease. NAAF has liaisons that go to Washington D.C. on a regular basis to help spread awareness, and local support groups hold fundraisers and awareness events. And still, the general public isn’t as aware of this disease as they are of, say, cancer or heart disease.

I myself wasn’t aware of this disease until my youngest sister developed it when she was five years old. Seven years later, she still suffers from it — a few eyelashes are the only hair she has on her body.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for alopecia areata. There are various treatment options available, but none have a guaranteed success rate, and just because it worked for one person, one time, doesn’t mean it’ll do it again or for someone else. NAAF works tirelessly to raise funding to go towards research of the disease, but there’s still a ways to go. It will take more money, more people, more time before we’re fortunate enough to find a cure, or at the very least a guaranteed treatment.

But the first step towards this future is raising awareness. People donate to associations dedicated to other, more well-known diseases simply because they are well known, and are possibly life threatening. Alopecia areata may not be life threatening in the same manner as cancer, but it can still be devastating to those who have it. And those people deserve to have some relief.

So I’m going to continue to be passionate about sharing my sister’s story, about raising awareness and holding fundraisers, until a cure is found — and probably long after that as well. All I ask is that you consider doing your part in this, or in whatever you’re passionate about, because that’s what passion is for.

September is National Alopecia Areata Awareness Month. To learn more about the disease or how to donate, visit NAAF.org.

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