Written By: Rose Fong
Eriko Shimojo likes her coffee sweet as can be -- because she’s absolutely the sweetest. She has an easy smile and welcoming eyes. She describes herself as a typical, shy Asian girl. And she totally is. Except for her really short hair. Some people assume she shaves it to rock a unique look. Others have broken heartedly shared their stories of chemotherapy and cancer treatments, hoping to find Eriko is a comrade in their battle.
Eriko’s battle is vastly different, but no less a struggle. From early childhood, Eriko’s mother noticed something was very different about her sweet baby. When she would lift baby Eriko up from her crib, feathery baby hairs covered the pillow. Doctors from Japan to the Philippines were stumped, but often concluded --incorrectly-- that Eriko suffered from alopecia.
Eriko’s mother even shaved her toddler’s hair in hopes that eventually her hair would thicken and grow into normal hair.
It never happened. Eriko’s hair stayed short and fine throughout childhood to adulthood. “I was always wearing bandanas and hats to cover, you know?” In the Philippines, there’s a lot of cultural pressure to fit into the normal standards. Eriko felt very lonely.
Eriko found out the truth of her condition a year ago, after seeing a dermatologist in the United States. “They said, ‘Well, your situation sounds more like a childhood thing, because you’ve had it since you were a kid. I’m going to have a [pediatric dermatologist] look at it with me.’”
“They came back with this old-school book, like they were actually doing the research there! It was kind of cool.” After looking at the follicles of Eriko’s hair through a microscope, the doctors concluded that Eriko had childhood short anagen syndrome, a mysterious, possibly genetic disorder researchers still don’t know much about.
Eriko’s heart broke when she found out there is no cure for her disorder, not even hair transplants. “Most people grow out of it,” Eriko explains. And, by most people, Eriko specifies that the disorder is most common in white girls under ten years old. However, the disorder rarely affects these children past childhood.
“I tried to join a support group on Facebook,” says Eriko, “because I didn’t want to feel alone. But most of the women in the support groups are moms, and I don’t want to scare them! I don’t want them to worry this is forever for their kids.”
But she says her A-team keeps her spirits up. “My sister’s been with me through everything. She’s the one who reminds me that people who matter will stick around.”
“I want to say to that little girl with no hair -- you can live your dreams. I’m living my dreams. It doesn’t matter what you look like. Your family and the people that matter will still love you and be there for you.”
To see more of Eriko and her journey, please follow her @e.Shimojo