Though initially devastated, brave Jo has now embraced her alopecia.
A mum-of-three whose bottle base-sized bald patch rapidly spread, leaving her with no body hair whatsoever and feeling ashamed of her appearance, said she now believes it has given her new opportunities.
When Jo Tucker, 39, of Bath, Somerset, first noticed a bit of hair loss on the side of her head in December 2017, she thought little of it, assuming she was simply run down.
Within weeks, though, it had got so bad that entire clumps of hair were coming away when she brushed or washed it, leading to a diagnosis of alopecia universalis in early 2018 – an autoimmune condition which sees the body mistakenly attacking hair follicles, making them fall out.
Now, a year on, Jo, a buyer for a retail company, has overcome her feelings of shame and devastation, and embraces her hairlessness, as well as doing her best to help fellow sufferers, saying: “In those awful early days, the last thing you want to hear is somebody telling you it’ll all be okay.
“You almost have to go through a mourning process for your hair first. But really trying to see the positives does help. Alopecia hasn’t stopped me from doing anything. In fact, it’s probably given me even more opportunities.
“Hair loss is a taboo, especially for women. Once, I felt ashamed, but now I know hair isn’t everything, I embrace what’s happened to me.”
Jo, who has three daughters, Matilda, 10, Elsie, six, and Ivy, two, with her businessman husband Joe, also 39, told how she first noticed she was shedding more hair than usual in around December 2017.
It coincided with her recent return to work after having Ivy, so she assumed it was just her body reacting to being run down – but soon she noticed an actual bald patch.
“I’d had some bald patches once before, after having Elsie. I had tests to show I was low on iron, and was given tablets, but it all grew back fine, so I figured the same thing would happen again,” she said.
Jo continued: “But this time was different. My hair loss soon escalated to the point where entire clumps were coming away with ease, like fur balls. It wouldn’t even hurt, which was all the more scary.
“I’d dread washing and styling my hair as that would make it fall out more.”
As more and more of her hair fell out, Jo initially tried to disguise what was happening with hats and hair wraps.
With Christmas 2017 fast approaching, keen to get some answers before her doctors’ surgery closed for the festivities, she saw her GP who said she probably had alopecia, and gave her a blood test.
“I had heard of alopecia before, but back then, was naive to the unpredictable nature of it. I thought it’d be as simple as my hair falling out, then growing back,” she said. “When the doctor mentioned it, I just kept thinking, ‘I can’t be bald. That kind of thing just doesn’t happen.’
“Even as I waited for my blood test results though, more and more of my hair fell out. By the time I went to get the results in early January, I had just a few strands left.”
While her alopecia diagnosis was confirmed, Jo’s blood tests gave little indication of what had caused it.
She added: “I had a slightly low iron count, but apart from that, everything was normal.”
Referred to a specialist, Jo was then given a course of oral steroids, which can help to stimulate regrowth.
But she suffered so terribly with side effects, including low mood and painful acne, that she soon decided to wean herself off them, after checking she was safe to do so with a doctor.
“The spots weren’t even from a vanity point – they genuinely really hurt,” she explained.
“The only positive was having much more energy in my spin class, but aside from that, I struggled with mood swings. I had some really quite dark thoughts.”
Since her diagnosis, Jo, who wears wigs more or less every day – usually blonde ones to match her old hair – has found solace in online support groups.
And, once she began accepting her condition, she became determined to help others – setting up an Instagram page, @baldmothertucker, where she shares candid posts about the highs and lows of living with alopecia.
“I get tonnes of messages from people all over the world, which is really rewarding. Before this, I wasn’t exactly a selfie queen, but now I post pictures of myself most days,” she said.
Jo continued: “Sometimes I worry it seems vain, but I’m doing it and putting myself out there to help people. With posting online, though, there is still some space between me and other people, whereas out in the real world, someone standing in front of you, taking you in, is very different.
“I try to just get it out there from the first instance, so it isn’t an elephant in the room, but I do still wear wigs when I leave the house. My girls are very used to seeing me bald, but when I’m in public, I just don’t want to be stared at.
“People often assume my hair loss is because I’m sick, or having chemotherapy treatment, so I don’t want to have to deal with my girls overhearing something worrying that isn’t true.”
Now, Jo – whose husband has been very supportive – has also lost her eyebrows, eyelashes and body hair, and is unsure whether it will ever grow back.
But by speaking out, she hopes to encourage others living with alopecia to search for the positives.
“I have tried hard not to let my children see me distraught over this. I want to teach them that they are strong regardless of physical appearance,” she said. “And the truth is that hair doesn’t define you. The people who loved you with hair will still love you without, and will look past any condition to see you for who you are.”
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