Just look down the bench of the Villa Duchesne basketball team, and you will readily see one player with a shaved head. That’s not hard to notice on a girls’ team. The first thoughts are: how can this player be strong enough to be playing with cancer?
Thank God it’s not cancer. Laura Collins, 18, senior suffers from a non-curable medical condition called Alopecia areata.
This is a rare condition that causes round patches of hair loss and can lead to total hair loss. Collins, who was born in St. Louis began losing her hair to AA at age 13 while the family was living in Salt Lake City.
“In the 7th grade, five years ago, I lost all my hair. It all grew back and then it fell out again. Over that summer, it started to grow back again,” she said.
Collins, mature beyond her years, handles her situation with grace and dignity. Her friends and family, accept her for what she is, and enjoy her natural beauty, hair or not. She is turning lemons into lemonade.
The Collins family, (her dad Brian is a pathologist at Washington University) relocated back to St. Louis at the start of her sophomore year. Not ready to deal with the reality of being bald, she wore a wig, including her times on the hardwood court.
“When you see someone that age without hair, there is just a natural curiosity about it. People won’t ask me directly. Rather, they will ask my friends or my coach. Everyone is much relieved to know this is more cosmetic and not life-threatening like cancer," she said.
The start of her senior year, she decided to change her status. Her class went on a retreat (Kairos) this past September. “I just came to terms with the whole thing. I was going to wait until I went away to college. My friends were really cool about the whole thing,” she said.
A great sense of humor
Her humor is one of those great virtues that serves her well. Seems recently, someone left a very gross, nasty hairbrush on the perimeter of the school’s gymnasium. Coach (Jane Ellen Kuenzle) one day demanded: “So who’s hairbrush is this anyway?”
Collins scratched her head and said it was hers. Her teammates went into hysterics.
“I don’t mind not wearing a wig. My confidence has gone way up. The whole thing has been a great freeing experience," she said. These days her school-mates take all of this in stride.
Coach is on her side
Her coach, Kuenzle thinks she ought to get a red badge of courage for being so self-confident.
“She has always had a great attitude as long as I’ve known her. I got this email one day notifying me that she had decided to no longer wear the wig. I said, you go girl; good for you.” Going on, Kuenzle said, “Teachers, faculty, friends have all been so supportive and proud of her.”
Collins has big plans. She loves science and will pursue some aspect of that in college. She’s looking at a variety of Catholic Jesuit schools ranging from Saint Louis University and Xavier University (Cincinnati) to Loyola Marymount University (Los Angeles) to a variety of others.
Maybe she will find a cure for Alopecia areata someday. “I hope so,” she said proudly with a slight giggle.
“I guess I just had to go out and figure out exactly who I was and I had to accept myself for what I am before others would except me.”
A gold medal is in order for Villa’s Laura Collins.