By Rebecca Drew
THIS WOMAN was mortified when her hairdresser noticed a bald patch at the back of her head which resulted in her losing EIGHTY PER CENT of her hair – and she says it was triggered by a SMEAR TEST.
Procurement administrator Chloe Sheehan (27) from Cork, Ireland, was getting her hair done in February 2017 when her hairdresser spotted a small coin-sized bald patch at the back of her head.
Chloe, who was working as a dental nurse at the time, immediately felt embarrassed and was worried about how many people had seen the patch at work whilst she had her hair tied up all day.
Chloe has alopecia areata – an autoimmune disorder that usually results in unpredictable, patchy hair loss. Whilst it is not ever clear what causes alopecia, Chloe suspects that a smear test and subsequent medical tests and procedures at the same time could have contributed to her hair loss.
Whilst Chloe was worried by her hair loss, she remained positive and her hair had grown back by September 2017 so she assumed that was the end of it, but in November 2017, Chloe’s hair started to fall out again but this time in clumps. Chloe was devastated and was petrified of going to sleep at night out of fear of seeing more hair on her pillow in the morning.
By the following month, Chloe could no longer recognise herself in the mirror and had lost around 80 per cent of her hair and in January 2018 she had bought her first wig to try and hide her condition.
Wigs weren’t a quick fix for Chloe because she was so scared that people were staring at her when she was out in public when they weren’t.
Over the years, Chloe has tried a whole host of different treatments from specialist creams and shampoos to clinical drug trials, scalp injections and has even tried rubbing cabbage stalks on her head to encourage hair growth – with limited success.
Chloe’s lack of confidence meant that she stopped going out with her friends because she was desperate to keep her alopecia a secret. It wasn’t until February 2019 when she was on a skiing trip that Chloe was open about her condition.
It was after this that Chloe started to feel comfortable again and in May 2020, she started her Instagram page, @chloeshairaffair, to help others and spread awareness of alopecia.
Since then, Chloe has been inundated with messages of love and support and she is passionate about redefining society’s strict beauty standards and wants to spread the message that there is beauty in difference.
“In February 2017, I was getting my hair done when a small coin size bald patch was spotted by my hairdresser on the back of my head,” said Chloe.
“This felt like the end of the world to me. I was completely unaware of it until it was pointed out to me.
“I was gobsmacked and totally shocked. I was a dental nurse at the time and immediately flashed to, ‘Oh my god, who saw the bald patch?’ as I had my hair tied up constantly at work.
“It started with a smear test and followed with multiple cervical tests, procedures and treatments. I think this was possibly the reason for my hair loss as the time frames are exact and I’m sorry I didn’t listen to my body more but that is just my self-diagnosis.
“No one can tell you what causes alopecia and there’s not a lot of research put into this because it is seen as non-life threatening, but I was in a very dark angry place when this happened to me.
“I was in complete and utter denial but luckily by September, it had all grown back.
“That November, my hair began to fall out again. This time it was much worse. Time stands still when you’re holding clumps of your hair intertwined in your fingers – it feels nauseating and I felt I had totally lost control.
“I was so afraid to fall asleep at night because of how much hair would be on my pillow in the morning. By Christmas, I was trying on wigs – something I never thought would happen but I knew I had to be brave and face it as by now I had lost eighty per cent of my hair and it was only getting worse.
“The sixteenth of January 2018 was the day I bought my first wig. This was very difficult. I would look in the mirror at my balding head and I could no longer see myself, I would put my wig on and couldn’t see myself either.
“I would try everything but I couldn’t find my identity so I resorted to not looking in the mirror and eventually not going to work or leaving the house for over a month. I thought I would never be able to recover or feel beautiful ever again.
“I wish I had bought a wig much sooner as I would have gained a bit of control back. My eyebrows falling out was very hard because I automatically looked ill whether I had my wig on or not and this really bothered me.
“I thought every single person was staring at me. If I went somewhere for lunch or dinner, I would think all the other tables were staring at me and always thought ‘Oh god. Do they think I have cancer?’
“I was so naïve as no one was looking. I became obsessed with what others saw on the outside and would I ever be seen as me again. It was a bit of an identity crisis.
“I was up most nights as I was having such bad nightmares of my hair falling out – this in turn kept me in bed all day and when I would get up and catch a glance of myself in the mirror, I would burst out crying again and go back to bed – it was a really difficult time for me.
“I would love to go back in time and have a chat with myself to prove there is light at the end of the tunnel. This is a huge reason why I set up my Instagram page, @Chloeshairaffair, because I would have done anything to have someone so vocal about alopecia online to turn to as I felt no one understood.
“The most difficult thing I think is being around people who don’t know or I haven’t mentioned my alopecia to. I panic that the wig may slip or something would be noticed and then what would they think of me.
“I believe I’m able to be so positive because I really wallowed in it I didn’t push it away or ignore it. I faced it head on and as dark as that may have been it has in turn allowed me to accept myself and feel more comfortable.
“I work really hard on my positivity with different exercises and tools such as talking about it, mindfulness, meditation, yoga, aromatherapy and most importantly surrounding myself with people I find positive and removing those I find negative.”
Chloe’s family and boyfriend, Declan, have been her rock throughout her alopecia journey.
Writing a blog about her journey was her turning point to acceptance and her catalyst for her growth in confidence.
“I wrote a short story about my journey for a blog as I knew no one I knew would be reading a hair loss blog but when it came out, I felt so empowered,” she said.
“This was a huge turning point for me as I felt I have gained some control of the situation.
“I wanted to help other people going through the same thing but I had to make sure I was ready myself so after three years, I felt it was time to stop hiding and to start my own Instagram page that had no financial benefit to it – just simply helping others and allowing my voice to be heard.
“It was very daunting as I was unsure of the reaction I would receive but people have been so overwhelmingly kind and accepting. Nobody judged me for not having hair or looked at me any different for the new person I was on the outside so why should I judge myself for it or look at myself any different.
“[Being able to help other people is] amazing I can’t even begin to explain. It proves that putting my vulnerable self on social media for anyone to see has been worth every second.
“My heart bursts when I receive amazing messages from people and I always say they help me as much as I help them. We’re a community and there for each other whether you put it on Instagram or live with hair loss in secret.”
Finally, Chloe shared an important message about beauty and acceptance.
“Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes,” she said.
“We grew up in a world that has convinced us that beauty is only exterior and this could not be further from the truth.
“Also, scream, shout, cry, do whatever you need to do don’t push your feelings away from the situation because it will eventually consume you.
“Face the reality of the situation and in your own time, when you are ready, let it go.”