LIVE GENTLY – by Cara Achterberg

We were living a fairy tale life, at least the kind of fairy tale life that includes healthy kids, a messy house, and a happy marriage, when a suspicious bald spot about the size of a quarter appeared on the top of my four-year-old’s head.

The spot grew bigger and bigger along with our fears. We took him to a dermatologist who told us he had Alopecia Areata, a relatively common autoimmune condition. She gave us a topical cream and said his hair would grow back within six months. Only it didn’t.

 Over the course of a month the rest of Ian’s hair fell out, and six months later his eyebrows and eyelashes vanished. I spent the better part of the next year living with my emotions exposed. People made me cry, and God made me angry. Why was this happening to my child?  As a parent you worry about a lot of things, but whether or not your child will have hair is not one of them. Before alopecia, Ian had a full head of red, curly hair – the kind old ladies like to touch in the grocery store and of which young women always say, “I wish that came in a bottle”.


 After extensive research and visits with doctors at both Hopkins and Hershey medical centers, all we learned was that not much is known about this disease. Alopecia Areata affects about 4-5 million Americans (and similar percentages of people in other countries). It does not discriminate for age, race, ethnic background, economic situation, or gender – anybody can get it. No one else in our family histories has ever had it. The most common cases involve only small amounts of hair loss (about the size of a quarter) which normally grows back, but a fraction of those develop Alopecia Areata Universalis which is loss of all the body’s hair. So you could say that my son is very special (and you’d be right). There are some theories, but no one knows for sure what causes Alopecia. It’s been around since biblical times, but the research is pretty thin. Basically, no one knows what causes it and no one can cure it. Faced with that knowledge, I did what any good mother would do. I set out to fix him myself. If I couldn’t cure him, I would make his body so healthy it could right itself.

 This led our whole family to begin living an organic life. And while five years later Ian still has no hair (he says he wouldn’t want any because then he’d have to wash it and brush it and he might get nose hair “which would be gross”), our whole family is much healthier both physically and emotionally. If it weren’t for Ian’s Alopecia, we might have never discovered how good life feels without chemicals and additives. I might never have learned that when you eat real food from grass fed animals, vegetables grown the way nature intended, and food created by your own hands, you think more clearly, feel lighter, have more energy, and fewer mood swings. My oldest son suffered from frequent asthma attacks until we got rid of all the chemical cleaners in our house. My husband’s cholesterol was headed through the roof until we ditched the processed food and started adding flax seed, whole grains, and grass-fed dairy products to his diet. If Ian hadn’t lost his hair, I might never have known the joy of chicken-keeping (and there is joy in it, as well as delicious fresh eggs, natural pest control, and rich fertilizer).

 Perhaps the biggest lesson came from having suffered through the pain of adjusting to living with a mysterious disease over which you have no control and no explanation. That’s when I learned that everyone has a story. Everyone has something that they must overcome. No one gets off scott free in this life. It’s very tempting to look at someone’s life and think that they’ve got it good, there’s no reason for them to be grumpy or difficult, until you’ve spent a year living with your pain exposed and your emotions fresh. Then you realize you don’t have any clue what’s going on in other people’s lives and hearts. Alopecia Areata helped me to re-prioritize my life. Early in this adventure my mother-in-law said to me, “If that’s the worst thing that happens to him, be grateful.” At the time I wanted to smack her, but now I completely believe that with all my heart. Everyone has a handicap, a weakness. No one’s perfect, and if Ian’s weakness is that he simply doesn’t have any hair then Hallelujah.

 Now when someone looks at me funny or is rude or disrespectful or even downright mean, I let it go. I remember that I don’t know what’s going on inside them. I don’t know what kind of pain they are facing. I don’t know why they are irritable or fearful or sad. So I can forgive their moodiness, their ill temper, their criticism. Instead of being hurt or angry, I simply wonder how tangled their life is and let it go. I can’t tell you the freedom this had given my own life.

 When Ian was first diagnosed and we went out in public, people always assumed he was a chemo patient. They were compassionate and kind and gentle with him. I remember watching a complete stranger carefully spotting Ian as he climbed through the tunnels at Port Discovery, making sure he was safe. A security guard at Hershey Park gave Ian a giant chocolate bar and the ladies behind the fudge counter at the farm market always offered him a free piece of fudge. Once a waiter comped our entire check at Pizza Hut. In the beginning all I could do was nod thanks because every one of these encounters reduced me to tears. Now that I can talk about Ian’s condition more comfortably, I still don’t correct the kind strangers’ assumptions. Another parent of a child with Alopecia said, “Don’t correct them. They feel good because they did something good for someone. Let them have that.” So for the most part I don’t say anything. I also don’t say anything because my son doesn’t realize why these people are so kind to him. He just thinks people are nice.

 Imagine how kind our world would be if everyone treated everyone else as if they were terminally ill, injured, or in pain. No one would yell at anyone. No one would curse the slow driver in front of them or snap at the grumpy cashier or be rude to their waiter. We would go out of our way to help others and be generous with our money, our time, and our words. Having a child with Alopecia has been a great blessing. It’s taken me some time to reach that conclusion. But I know our lives are better and Ian’s life is better because of this disease.

Live gently among your neighbors – give them the benefit of the doubt and your kindness, nothing more and nothing less.

CAP, the Children’s Alopecia Project (CAP), was founded to help children who are living with hair loss due to all forms of alopecia. Through their efforts, CAP Kids grow in confidence and become stronger teens and productive adults. Learn more.


Cara Achterberg lives on a small farm in Southern York County, Pennsylvania with her husband, three children, several horses, and too many chickens to count. When she’s not in her gardens or taxiing her children all over the countryside, she is a freelance writer, local columnist, and leads workshops about the organic life based on her blog, She is currently seeking a publisher for her novel in the hopes that she will make enough money to hire a cleaning person.AGet more info, ‘how to’s’ and ‘what if’s’ about Lois’ Tales2Inspire project

We welcome your review of this story in the Comment box below. Your name and credentials will be included with any review we post on Carolyn Howard-Johnson’s highly respected Book Review Blog under the TALES2INSPIRE banner.

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About loiswstern

I was in education for just over 20 years when I unexpectedly pursued another passion and entered the world of authors and journalists. I have since published two non-fiction, full length books on different aspects of beauty, but also avidly endorse the confluence of Inner and Outer beauty. I have written feature articles for Long Island Beauty Guide and LI Woman, and have served as Editor-at-large for, the largest Internet site for plastic surgery and beauty needs. I enjoy researching what's new in the world of aesthetics & anti-aging and devote one of my blogs: to sharing cutting edge, hype-free information. I devote my second blog to my other passion: writing, collecting and sharing stories to warm the spirit and inspire the soul. To this end, I have created an 'Authors Helping Authors' project/contest, to create books for inspiration, the first of which is titled: Tales 2 Inspire ~ Beyond Coincidence. It is a jewel of a book, filled with inspiring stories and full color original photos and/or drawings. If you're a talented writer with one inspiring story to share, visit to learn how to participate. FREE to enter. All you need is the talent and perseverance to do so. Lots of positive platform building opportunities for the winners. Learn more at:

Posted on February 12, 2012, in Tales2Inspire, TALES2INSPIRE WRTERS CONTEST, The Power of Your Words, Words to Inspire and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Thanks for your story. It takes a situation such as this for some people to show that kindness that did give to each one of us. I saw it when my 21-year-old daughter was diagnosed with a tumor in her lungs. While she underwent a 7 hour surgery, 32 friends gathered in the waiting room to pray and hold her up to Him. Then I saw the kindness again when my 18-year-old son was expelled from school just 1 month before graduation. the outpouring of love from my fellow teacher friends and from his friends showed that people are capable of that care for others. That “live gently among your neighbors” is a great adage to remember.
    I admire you for changing your whole way of eating, too, for the betterment of your entire family. Great story.

    • How thoughtful of you to leave such a meaningful comment. Just wanted to clarify one thing: This “tale” was written by Cara Achtenberg as an entry to my TALES2INSPIRE contest, so she is the one who deserves the credit for changing her attitude along with her family’s eating patterns and food consumption.

  2. Someone close to me, Cara, has the milder form of alopecia. This autoimmune disease is devastating and the story of your son is both heartbreaking and inspiring. No one can fully understand what it must be like for your son to live with this inexplicable illness. Reading your piece brought home the power of love, and in particular, your love. You help repair the world with your words here. And I honor you.

    • Mary -thank you for your comment and thank you for reading. I was just watching my son yesterday and thinking about how his journey has affected so many lives in such a short time. Thank you for taking the time to comment. it meant a lot. blessings, Cara

  3. Melissa Kirtley Eason

    What a wonderful story! What I am inspired by most is your manner and grace when faced with this situation, and the young man that Ian is becoming who is confident enough to say that he wouldn’t want hair anyway (good for him!). You are correct, we all have a story, no one gets off scott free — how wonderful a world we would live in, if we all remembered that and respected each other accordingly. =)

    • Hi Melissa,

      I am getting a thrill out of each positive comment that comes back to these authors. You see, I am the creator of this Tales2Inspire “Authors helping Authors” project and feel a bit like mother hen here, basking in the sunlight as these authors receive the recognition they dearly deserve. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

      Warm regards,
      Lois W. Stern
      Read more great stories at:

  4. Alopecia is described as a condition in which the immune system eradicates the hair follicles. Alopecia can lead to hair loss on the scalp and elsewhere on the body. In most cases, the hair is lost in small, quarter-sized amounts and usually does not exceed the amount of a few patches. In more extreme cases, Alopecia can progress to cause complete hair loss of the scalp and other areas of the body. White blood cells in the immune system rapidly attack cells in hair follicles that make the hair grow. These affected cells become small and slow down hair production.:

    Please do look into our very own webpage

    • Thanks for your comment. The author has made quite a study of Alopecia, as any intelligent mother whose own child was afflicted would normally do. It appears that you also have done so. Did you hve any visceral or emotional reaction to her story? If so, I’m sure she would enjoy hearing your reactions to this tory.

      Lois W. Stern
      Creator of the Tales2Inspire Author Helping Author project/contest

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