I haven't got cancer, I'm suffering from alopecia areata'
Many people enjoy styling their hair, but it is something Imogen Watkinson can only dream of, as her hair is thinning and falling out. The brave 20-year-old has spoken out after being diagnosed with alopecia areata and hopes to help others affected. Gaynor Clarke reports.
“My hair is my pride and joy. I’m 20 and I’m going out.
“I went to a party and I thought I would like to do my hair. But I thought ‘Why am I doing it?’ There’s not much of it left.”
Imogen Watkinson would love to style her hair, something many people take for granted every day.
But she has been diagnosed with alopecia areata, which causes hair loss.
Imogen’s partner Gareth Richardson first noticed there was a problem in June when she was washing her hair.
She went to her GP and was referred to a dermatologist, who told her she had alopecia areata.
It can be a problem caused by the immune system and the doctors believe Imogen’s hair loss was triggered by stress.
She said: “It’s quite extensive now. It’s taking over the back of my hair.
“I never noticed any thinning or hair loss at the beginning, but now when I go in the shower or when I wake up, it’s everywhere. It’s coming out in my hands and in the bath.”
Imogen, who works as a bar tender at Fishergate Inn in Orrell, often ties her hair up to hide the bald patches.
“When I wake up in the morning, I can’t do anything because my hair follicles are so sore, so I can’t brush it or do anything,” she said.
“The majority of the time I have it up and when I wash it, I have it down but only for a few hours. It’s so thin that it winds me up. My hair was quite long and thick before.”
People notice Imogen’s hair loss and sometimes think it is caused by cancer treatment.
She said: “I just say no, I haven’t got cancer, I have got alopecia areata.
“I am asked what is it and where do you get it. People don’t know about it.”
Imogen says she copes well when people look at her hair, but if she is already feeling down, it can affect her.
“People do look at me. People talk. On a night out especially, girls my age or younger say ‘look at her, she has no hair’ but I get on with it,” she said.
However Imogen, who lives in Pemberton, said many people have been supportive.
And she has decided to talk about her experience in the hope it will make people more aware of the condition and help those affected.
She said: “Not a lot of people know, especially at my age, what alopecia is.
“Some people don’t want to talk about anything or share their experiences with people. If you are a girl at my age and you are losing your hair and it means everything to you, it’s stressful and not everyone will share it.
“I want to raise awareness of it for their mums and dads and let people know they are not on their own.”
Imogen’s hair does sometimes grow back, but she says it then falls out in other places.
She is currently using a lotion to treat the alopecia, but may need other treatments if it does not work. Options include steroid injections and chemotherapy tablets.
She has decided to shave off her remaining hair to make it easier to have the treatments.
Imogen will go under the clippers at a fund-raising day being held at the Fishergate Inn, on a date to be confirmed, along with her partner, his father and two colleagues.
They will raise money to pay for a wig for Imogen. Imogen is also looking into holding drop-in sessions so people with alopecia can meet.
To make a donation to the wig, go to www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/imogen-watkinson.