Recent News Coverage

It has been a good week for alopecia awareness, as I’ve had lots of news coverage about the success of Wig Free Week!

The charity section of The Scotsman newspaper, Giving Back, did a story on their website which hopefully will also be in print on Tuesday:

http://www.scotsman.com/giving-back/heroes/ruth-mcpherson-going-wig-free-made-me-happy-and-liberated-1-4033164

The Edinburgh University Alumni website put a follow-up story about Wig Free Week on their noticeboard:

http://www.ed.ac.uk/alumni/services/news/noticeboard/noticeboard/alopecia-research

And the Belgravia Centre also wrote about it on their blog:

http://www.belgraviacentre.com/blog/wig-free-week-fundraiser-joins-alopecia-areata-charity/new belgravia logo

 

£10k raised for AAR-UK

I recently closed my fundraising page and yesterday presented a cheque for £10,146.99 to Karen Green, Secretary of Autoimmune Alopecia Research-UK.
I am absolutely delighted with the success of my Wig Free Week campaign, and would like to thank everyone for your generous donations and support – I really couldn’t have done it without you!
Cheque2
Following my fundraising efforts, I have been invited to become involved in the charity, helping them with their PR and social media marketing, and am also interested in setting up a mentoring service for people recently diagnosed with alopecia.
I would potentially also like to make Wig Free Week an annual event and encourage other people with alopecia to get involved, with the aim of raising awareness, fundraising for research and improving alopecia sufferers’ confidence and mental health.
So thanks again for following my progress and watch this space! 🙂

Cheque1

Meeting Princess Anne

My old school Gordonstoun have been incredibly supportive of my fundraising endeavours for Autoimmune Alopecia Research UK, with the pupils arranging an Own Clothes Day in November which raised £390.

They recently contacted me again inviting me to a Christmas Carol Service for ex-pupils in Covent Garden, London, and told me that they had arranged for the proceeds of the evening to be split between my Wig Free Week for AAR-UK and two other alumni charities.  I was absolutely delighted as I am now trying to reach £10,000 and all help is gratefully received!

IMG_0771 (002)The even more exciting news was that Princess Anne would be attending the service, as she is former Governor of the school, and they had asked me to meet her!  I decided to go wig-free on the day because I thought it would have more of an impact when I was telling her about my fundraising for alopecia research.

IMG_0772 (002)I was quite nervous beforehand, as it was the first time I had gone for a full day without my wig since Wig Free Week and also because I would be seeing people who I had gone to school with, some of whom did not know that I had alopecia.  But when I arrived and got chatting to people it was so much easier than I thought it would be, and everybody was really kind and made me feel very comfortable!

IMG_0769 (002)We met Princess Anne after the service was over and we were split into small groups so that she had the chance to speak to people individually.  I wasn’t sure whether to curtsy or not but she immediately put us at ease by going in for a handshake and seemed very down-to-earth and friendly.

IMG_0773 (002)When it came to my turn I introduced myself and explained that I had developed alopecia just after leaving school and why I had decided to raise money for AAR-UK.  I told her about my Wig Free Week and how much I had raised so far, and she seemed very impressed and said well done.  We then all chatted in a group for a while before she had to head on to the next group, but before she left she said good luck to me again!  I was very impressed by how nice she was and how she made time for everyone – it was a real to honour to meet her.

5d965642-357e-4b2c-a2ba-4f95bbbbc63bThe school had provided some drinks and nibbles after the service so that everyone had the chance to chat.  It was great to see friends who I hadn’t seen for weeks, months and even years!  There were quite a few people there who had supported my fundraising campaign but who I hadn’t seen in person so it was lovely to have the opportunity to say thank you properly.

3fb3a21f-e426-4adf-a4d7-fc7fba1e4118

I was particularly pleased to see my friend Nataly, who is one of my closest friends but has been living in San Francisco so wasn’t able to be around for Wig Free Week.  She was one of the first people that I told about my alopecia and has always been incredibly positive and supportive, with an amazing ability to put a smile on my face when I’m feeling down!

Even though she hasn’t been here in person to support me with my latest venture, she has been a huge support to me from afar, following all my activities on social media, creating genius wig-free hashtags (#nowiggynobiggie) and making a very generous donation to my campaign.  I feel very lucky to have such amazing friends who make having alopecia so much easier 🙂

 

Torty’s Story

When people ask me what were the defining moments in my alopecia journey, I often say that meeting my friend Torty Lee is one of them.  

I developed alopecia immediately after leaving school at the age of 18, and a year later, I started my studies at Edinburgh University.  I arrived at uni as a nervous fresher, still getting used to having no hair, with a brand new peroxide blonde wig!  

At that stage, my alopecia made me feel very different to my friends and peers at university.  I often got very emotional and asked myself “why me?”, “why do I have to cope with this and no-one else does?”.  I felt sorry for myself and that others were unable to understand my situation.

Meeting Torty changed all of this.  We had been friends for a while, but one night Torty opened up to me, telling me that she had Crohn’s Disease.  I couldn’t believe that my fun-loving, bubbly friend was dealing with such a difficult condition and was in awe of her bravery.  Her situation made me realise that I was not alone, and that many people are faced with situations beyond their control, but it is possible to get through them.

As Crohn’s Disease is, like alopecia, an autoimmune condition, I asked Torty if she would be happy to share her story on my blog.  Here it is…

4d8726e2-276b-4b38-bb9f-adc0c234b5fbWhen I heard that Ruth was doing ‘Wig Free Week’ I felt so incredibly proud of her. Not only as a friend, but as someone else who has suffered for all of my adult life with what is often considered to be an embarrassing or hidden illness. The perceived embarrassment of having one of these autoimmune diseases means that they are often not talked about or are hidden away, which is what makes Ruth’s valiant efforts to raise awareness by undertaking a Wig Free Week even more inspiring.

My Story

When I was fourteen I started to get ill. It wasn’t hugely dramatic at first and I didn’t really realise that anything was particularly unusual, but I lost my appetite, suffered with terrible stomach aches and diarrhoea, and lost a lot of weight. At first (having been a fairly chubby child!) I was quite pleased with my new slim-line figure and tried to ignore all of the other symptoms. My mother, however, had other ideas (as they say, mothers know best) and took me to the doctor. At first, my very helpful(!) GP suggested that I probably had an eating disorder, something which I knew not to be true, but the doctor didn’t seem to believe me.

After a few more months of pain and exhaustion, the first of my visible symptoms reared it’s (incredibly ugly) head. What appeared to be a golf ball sized boil started to grow on my bottom. After having been fobbed off by the doctor the first time, I really wasn’t keen to return, so I ignored it for as long as possible until I could no longer walk as I was in so much agony, and was forced to literally crawl to my Mum to ask for help.

0df33a9e-7da6-4b8d-9891-b002521f9937We rushed to the doctor who took one look at the lump and phoned A&E. I could hear the big “C” word being thrown about and I was absolutely terrified. After being rushed through A&E I turned to my Mum and said that my WORST NIGHTMARE would be for a young, gorgeous doctor to examine me… Just at that moment, the curtain was pulled back and Dr Brad-Pitt-Lookalike walked in. As he asked me to drop my knickers, my jaw hit the ground and my Mum very helpfully started crying with laughter. One look at what turned out to be a peri-anal abscess and Dr Handsome sent me for surgery. It was a very scary time for me but sadly it didn’t end there. Following my surgery, the inflammation levels in my blood meant that I was very quickly diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, something which I am now very grateful for as many patients suffer for years without a diagnosis.

96e955e5-be07-4896-94a4-156672d2d255Since that day, I have spent weeks (if not months) of my life in hospital having tests, treatments and surgeries. At age sixteen I had surgery to give me my first colostomy bag, a bag which sits on the outside of your body to collect ‘waste’, a great look I’m sure we can all agree. My Mum, ever the joker, liked to call me the bag-lady but my Dad, who really didn’t know how to deal with the upset of the situation, bought me my first Louis Vuitton handbag… He said that if I had to have a horrible bag, I should at least have a nice one too (so he is completely to blame for my designer handbag obsession… ahem…)

1a4c72a5-9bfc-4531-9555-eb79b13fc03fDespite being in and out of hospital for most of my GCSE and A Level years, I managed to get into Edinburgh University – definitely one of my proudest moments (and where I met Ruth). On the whole I managed to have a very normal student experience – drinking far too much, attending too few lectures and generally having a brilliant time. However, in my second year at university I had a huge flare up and was once again rushed to hospital. My bowel was close to perforating which could have killed me, and I was forced to have more surgery to remove my entire large intestine and leave me with a permanent ileostomy bag. It was an extremely sad day for me as the realisation that I would be a bag-lady for life really hit home.

f5a745e7-6982-40d0-a16f-d047df9f007b
However, after spending the first of two Christmases in hospital, just weeks after my surgery I was back at University and sneaking off for weekends to go skiing in Glencoe, after telling my Mum that I was going to see the historical site of the Glencoe Massacre, although I’m sure my parents and doctor were secretly pleased that I was feeling well enough to rebel against them!

Now
Now, aged twenty-seven, I am generally doing really well. I made a decision when I was first diagnosed at fourteen that Crohn’s was not going to beat me or stop me from following my dreams, no matter how difficult that can sometimes be. I finished my degree at Edinburgh whilst playing cricket, hockey, skiing and taking part in the Edinburgh Festival, I finished law school with a distinction (despite having yet more surgery just a couple of weeks before my exams), and I am now training to be a solicitor.

b4b8f57c-af83-40c0-95e0-d1575b30448cI inject myself twice weekly with a cocktail of drugs and have regular check-ups at the hospital but, thanks in no small part to the love and support of my incredible family, friends and boyfriend, I am really well and living life to the full!

 

 

Gordonstoun’s Own Clothes Day

Gordonstoun

Back in October, I contacted my old school, Gordonstoun, about my plans to do a Wig Free Week to raise money for Autoimmune Alopecia Research UK.  To my delight, they replied to me saying that the pupils were really interested in my campaign and would like to help!

I went back to school when I was home for a weekend and met up with two of the prefects, Imogen and Archie, who had offered to organise an Own Clothes Day to raise money for AAR-UK.

It was great to have a chance to tell them more about how alopecia had affected me and why I feel so passionately about funding research through the work of AAR-UK.  I was very touched by their enthusiasm and kindness, and the fact that they wanted to do something proactive to show support.

Before the Own Clothes Day Imogen and Archie showed my Wig Free Week video to the whole school during an assembly.  This helped the students to understand a bit more about who I was, how alopecia had affected me and why I had decided to go without my wig to raise money for charity.  I hope the video conveyed a positive message about overcoming alopecia, and that they found my story inspiring!

On Friday 20th November the students were invited to wear their own clothes, rather than school uniform, to school for a day for a donation of £1 to AAR-UK.  The Own Clothes Day was a huge success raising £390, which is a fantastic result and a huge boost to my fundraising campaign!

I have also been invited to go back to give a lecture at the school in March 2016.  This will be an opportunity to thank the students in person for their efforts and to report back on how Wig Free Week went, as well as telling them a bit more about my experiences with alopecia.

Thank you so much to Imogen, Archie and the students and staff of Gordonstoun School for your fantastic support! 🙂

Life After Wig Free Week

So, it has been a month since the end of Wig Free Week – how time flies!

I apologise for the lack of blog posts in November, I was just so exhausted after the week ended and ready for a well-earned break.  All the fundraising activities, blogging and admin really took it out of me and once Monday arrived I had totally run out of adrenaline!

christmas1As well as being extremely tired, I also found it very strange putting my wig back on.  Having not worn it at all for a week, I suddenly realised how uncomfortable, itchy and hot it could be.  Even though it is one of the best wigs on the market, and far better than many cheaper versions, you can’t escape from the fact that wearing a wig is uncomfortable and frustrating.

Quite a few people suggested that if I was finding it uncomfortable, maybe I should just keep it off but I felt like I wanted to try getting back to ‘normal’ and that to me means wearing a wig.  However, I do feel that going bald some of the time might be an option, but I want to give Headshot 1myself a bit of time to reflect before I make a decision.

I have had a couple of opportunities to go wig-free since the end of the week.  The first was when we took my boyfriend’s nephew Kyan swimming.  He is only 3 and hadn’t seen my without my wig before.  I was pretty nervous coming out of the changing room because I knew that he would be very confused to see me with no hair!

One of the hardest things about alopecia is interacting with children because they find it harder to understand, and also because they don’t have the social barriers or taboos that stop adults from making comments about it.  However, you have to try not to be hurt by children saying “why does that lady look strange?” or “why do you have no hair?” and accept that children are only curious.

Kyan stared at me when he first saw me bald and seemed a bit surprised, but he quickly got used to it and went back to being his usual playful chatty self.  Later on, when I had my wig back on, he did point at it and ask me “why no hair?” so I tried to explain as best I could.  I was happy that we were able to talk about it, and hopefully the next time he sees me without my wig on he won’t find it such a surprise!

Hat

I also decided to go wig-free for a whole day one Sunday.  My friend Priyanka had been away during my Wig Free Week and I know felt sad that she wasn’t able to be a part of it, so I decided to take my wig off to go and meet her!

It was a very cold frosty day so I had to put a hat on to go outside, as my head gets a bit nippy.  It actually felt great to step out of my front door without my wig again, and that liberating buzz that I had had during Wig Free Week came flooding back again!

Pri

We had brunch in a local café in Brixton and I told Priyanka all about the success of the week and how positive it made me feel.  I am really pleased that I chose to go bald to meet her, because it helped me to prove to myself that what I did wasn’t just a one-off and that actually I could make it more of a regular thing!

As I have said previously, the amazing thing to come out of Wig Free Week is that I now feel like I have the option to choose whether to wear a wig or not.  Beforehand, I really felt like I would want to put my wig back on immediately after the week ended but I ended up surprising myself at how much I enjoyed being out and about without it!  I also can now look at myself bald and actually like the way I look, rather than wanting to get rid of the photograph.

It just shows how much you can change your perception of yourself in a relatively short period of time.  The lesson – don’t let your insecurities hold you back! 🙂