Edmonds woman faces hair loss with humor, grace

  • By Andrea Brown Herald Writer
  • Monday, November 5, 2012 4:31pm
  • Life

Most people walk in the door and kick off their shoes.

Sue Jurewicz tosses her wig.

“I take my hair off first,” she said.

Then all she has to do is remember to put it back on when she goes out.

“Sometimes I forget,” she said. “My daughter says, ‘Mom, you don’t have your hair on.’”

Oops.

Without a wig, Jurewicz, 53, is as good as bald.

She has alopecia areata, an autoimmune disease that causes hair loss on the scalp and elsewhere.

Patches of her long, thick auburn hair began falling out when she was in her mid-20s.

“I had little quarter-sized bald spots,” she said.

At first, she did her version of the Donald Trump thing.

“I would wear a headband and comb it back,” she said.

“You try to do whatever you can.”

A thin rendition of her hair grew back twice, but didn’t stick around for long. Topical remedies to stimulate hair growth didn’t help. There isn’t a cure for the disease.

She turned to support groups and was active in the National Alopecia Areata Foundation in California. Her husband’s Boeing job recently relocated the family to Edmonds.

Her two daughters, 17 and 18, have about a 25 percent chance of inheriting the condition.

“No one else in my family has it,” Jurewicz said.

Alopecia areata is different than generic alopecia, the common and natural hair loss that happens with age.

Alopecia areata affects about 2 percent of the population, kids and adults. It can strike the scalp and any body area with hair follicles.

Wait, does this mean Jurewicz doesn’t have to shave her legs?

No. She didn’t get that lucky.

It claimed her eyelashes, eyebrows and nostril hairs, little hairs she used to take for granted. Now she knows better.

“Your eyelashes keep things from coming in,” she said.

Nose hair keeps stuff from running out.

Eye drops, tissues and an eyebrow pencil are her best friends.

Still, alopecia has its perks. With six wigs, she can change her hair to match her mood or outfit.

Usually, though, she grabs what’s handy.

“One wig is on the front room couch. One is in the midst of all the dining room stuff,” she said.

Of course, sometimes it’s not so handy.

“I’m telling you, I can find my purse, but I can’t find my hair.”

Her wigs are mostly short styles in light browns with varying highlights.

“I want to look as normal as possible,” she said.

Most people don’t see right away that it’s a wig, but they might notice that her hair looks different.

“They say, ‘Oh my gosh, you got your hair cut and colored.’”

The wig isn’t just for show. It’s a medical hair prostheses to protect the scalp from the elements. Like a hat, it can get hot, itchy and uncomfortable. Jurewicz sometimes wears a scarf or bandanna instead of a wig.

“People think you have cancer,” she said. “They come up and ask how my recovery is going. I tell them I have alopecia and they look at me kind of puzzled. I tell them it’s a hair-loss disorder and that it’s not life-threatening. I’m not shy to tell people. I’m a walking billboard.”

A bigger billboard is Charlie Villanueva, the totally hairless 6-foot-11 sharp shooter for the NBA’s Detroit Pistons, who has become a poster giant for alopecia areata.

And then there’s beauty queen Miss Delaware Kayla Martell, the first bald Miss America contestant in 2011.

As for Jurewicz, she got her 15 minutes of fame on the Bravo reality TV show “Shear Genius” in an episode about styling wigs for women with alopecia.

“I got to keep the wardrobe and the hair provided,” she said.

There’s a bond with others.

“I was at a Mariners game in July and saw another girl down the row who had her head shaved. I could see where she had patches. I asked her if she was a fellow alopecian and we talked.”

There are some drawbacks. Instead of one head of hair to primp, Jurewicz has six.

She cleans the wigs about once a month.

The synthetic heads are simple: “I wash it and let it dry, shake it and it goes back to whatever it was.”

The human hair wigs take some doing, and can be styled straight or curly with flat irons and hot rollers.

Like anyone, Jurewicz has her bad hair days.

“One of my wigs, the bangs stick out,” she said.

The human hairdos frizz in rain.

The greatest threat to her hair is in the kitchen.

“I have to worry about it when cooking. Opening the oven door, grabbing stuff out,” she said. “If I get too close to the oven or open flame, it is ruined.”

And at $300 to $400 a head, it cost more than just burning a pot roast.

Andrea Brown: 425-339-3443; abrown@heraldnet.com.

Learn more

For information about the Washington Alopecia Areata Support Group, which meets in Seattle, contact group leader June Secreto at rjsecreto@comcast.net or 253-661-1499.

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