One day when she was in eighth grade, Alyssa Cruz noticed something strange. She was in the middle of a basketball game. Here's how she's describes it:
I was putting my hair up and I noticed that there was this windy bald patch on the top right of my head. It was completely smooth, and I wondered what had happened, because it didn’t look like someone just cut it off while I was sleeping.
Alyssa went home and showed her parents. They took her to 10 different doctors trying to find one who could help her. She was diagnosed with alopecia universalis. This condition causes Alyssa to lose all the hair on her body, including her arms, her legs, her eyebrows, and even her eyelashes. It doesn’t cause her any other kind of harm.
Alyssa’s scalp was injected with steroids and her doctor suggested different creams that might help her hair grow back. When these didn’t work as planned, Alyssa decided to work on her inner self.
She had a hard time accepting that her thick black hair would never grow back again. She tried to lean on her best friend for support, but the person she thought was her best friend wasn’t as responsive as Alyssa thought she would be. Since the friend was a religious person, Alyssa said to herself, "Hey, if you're not going to help me, then maybe the person you talk to is going to help me." So Alyssa "turned to God and asked him why this is happening to me?"
The first day Alyssa came to school with a bald head, her friends were shocked. Most of them had never seen a girl so young with such a bald head. But once they saw how confident she was and how she walked around school as if nothing had happened, they felt differently, and say they're amazed at how she, in her words, "rocks her bald."
Alyssa is now a junior at Inglemoor High School in Kenmore. When she walks around with her bald head, people often assume she has cancer, and this is really annoying to her. But her church and faith help her deal with this and not let it get to her.
When homecoming came around, Alyssa wore a wig while all the others girls did their hair. She wants to make people comfortable around her, so to lighten the mood, she plays tricks on people and brings them into her world. "When I first meet people I'm usually wearing my hair, she says. "But then if it gets hot, I take it off and people will be like 'what?' And sometimes I hide it in weird places and hang it on the wall, so people will see just see this hair on the wall and it's like, pretty freaky."
Alyssa isn’t shy about what is happening to her, and loves it when people ask her what's really going on "instead of making assumptions about what going on and feeling sorry for me."
Alyssa's acceptance of her condition sometimes worries her parents. They sent her to a therapist "to see if I was in denial about my disease because they thought I was too passive about it." The therapist asked Alyssa's parents to leave the room and asked Alyssa if she thought she had alopecia. She recalls, "I was like yeah, of course I do. He was like, well why aren't you sad about it? I said, why do I have to be sad about it? I have so much more going on and all this does is make me lose my hair. I'm not a different person."
Today, Alyssa walks around Inglemoor High School proudly and confidently. She reflects on everything that's happened to her:
The first time I saw [my hair was gone] I said okay I have a choice. I can either let this make me really sad, or I can make myself really happy from this. And it's not like there weren’t bad days, of course there were bad days, but what I realized is that the only person that I need to be better than is the person I was yesterday. Honestly, this isn't something you should pity me for. I consider this one of the greatest experiences that has ever happened to me.
Alyssa’s hair has defied all odds and has even grown back into little a pixie cut. Still, she lives every day knowing that her hair could fall out from one day to the next and she’s fine with that, continuing to rock her bald.
This spring, KUOW hosted an after-school workshop for high school students in partnership with Rainier Scholars. It was part of our youth radio program, RadioActive. Five youth producers spent ten weeks learning what it means to be a radio journalist. They created powerful stories about subjects close to their hearts. Listen to RadioActive stories here and stay up-to-date with RadioActive on Facebook.