Swedish Skepchick charmkvark wrote this for Skepchick.se a couple months back and it was so good Martin Rundkvist of Aardvarchaeology asked for a translation. Because the post hasn’t gotten the exposure it deserves, I’m now reposting the translation here. Enjoy the story of charmkvark’s involuntary undercover work in the world of woo!
I have alopecia, an autoimmune disease in which hair follicles go into a resting phase, causing hair loss. The form I’ve got, alopecia areata, causes hair to fall out in in patches. The disease continuously regresses and relapses, and I have gone trough several bouts since the age of seven. Luckily, the disease is completely harmless and I have no other symptoms, but you appear to be very ill indeed when you have no hair/eyebrows/eyelashes. People think cancer, death and woe. In their eyes I see sympathy — or dollar signs.
When I was diagnosed my mother felt really bad for me and became a bit desperate when the doctors told her there was nothing they could do. I know she acted in what she thought was my best interest when she started looking into healers. She thought, “If this works then it’s amazing and if it doesn’t then at least I will have done all I could.” Me, I was pretty cool with the whole thing. Nothing we can do, says the doctor lady, then I’ll just make lemonade I suppose. I educated my classmates so they wouldn’t think it was contagious or believe I had cancer. Now I can’t remember why, but nothing came of the healers or the other woo that my mother was contemplating. I remember thinking it sounded scary and wasn’t too jazzed about the whole ting. And damn, was I lucky. Where would I be today otherwise? My hair started growing back spontaneously (as mentioned the disease regresses and relapses) after a few months. Had I gone to a healer before my hair grew back, my seven year old brain would definitely have come to the conclusion that healing works. Had I gone to a healer I might not be blogging at the world’s greatest blog today, Skepchick Sweden, but instead misspelling in eight different fonts at a blog for my healing company.
Looking like you have cancer without actually having to go through the disease, treatment and anxiety is a fairly good deal when it comes to undercover work. I have done it without planning to on a number of occasions. The last time it happened was a few years ago on a summer holiday. Me and two girlfriends sat at a table when a Norwegian woman came up to us. She sat down and after a few minutes’ conversation she mentioned that she was a psychic, a medium and all kinds of magical stuff. She started to give us readings one by one. Super happy girl got a super happy reading (compliment after compliment) and nodded excitedly at everything. Skeptic girl was just told “I don’t get anything on you”. Non-cancer girl received the following reading. As the lady looked deep into my eyes and held my hands she said:
— You carry a great sadness. Your life is not easy. You struggle.
This couldn’t have been more wrong. I was in love, realizing my dream career-wise and enjoying a sun-soaked holiday with two awesome girlfriends. However, I looked down at the table to confirm that she was on the right path.
— You’re very ill. You have cancer.
Bitch, please. But I continued staring at the table.
— You have cancer of the …
Now it got interesting. “My” alopecia is actually caused by another autoimmune disease which affects the parathyroid glands. I quickly decided that even if she was off on the cancer I’d give her a fair chance at guessing where the disease was located. Thus, valid answers would have been the hair follicles or parathyroid glands.
— … ovaries.
I shook my head. She pondered.
— … bowels.
— … breasts.
— … brain.
— … kidneys.
— … liver.
— … uterus.
Do you know how many organs you have to guess before you end up at the parathyroid glands? All of them. Most people don’t even know they have parathyroid glands. She eventually gave up and went back to talking about my great sadness. Me and skeptic girl laughed as we walked away, jeez! But what if someone with ovarian cancer had been sitting there? The outcome could have been dramatically different and someone already suffering could have been further harmed.
This is the danger of wearing a disease on your sleeve. You become fair game for every charlatan and snake oil salesman out there. But to those who prey on suffering and desperate people, I have only one thing to say: don’t ever forget the parathyroid glands. Because I’m out to get every last one of you using my non-cancer.