Once I walked outside the airport in Tampa, I was welcomed by the warm Florida weather!
My mother served as my travel companion for this trip, and we were picked up from the airport and then taken to our hotel where I met with the producers of the show to plan for the days ahead! I was invited to film a segment about Alopecia. Once we began conversing about the segment in the weeks preceding the filming, I suggested we showcase the effects of Alopecia not only on your head, but inside as well. I didn't want this piece to just be about the "bald beauty queen", but rather the impact we can have as members in this organization.
My business manager had received a letter from an employee of a school in Plant City, FL. In the letter, she shared about Brooke, one of her students who happens to also have Alopecia. She has been isolated and bullied in school, and can't seem to find her way. Brooke, a twelve year old fifth grader, has had Alopecia since she was an infant.
Apparently, this school worker heard about a Miss America contestant who also had Alopecia, and so she did some research and brought in a handful of news articles for Brooke to see. Brooke became enamored and really wanted to meet me. So, the school wrote in to "The Doctors" about me, and how much Brooke looked up to me and within weeks, I received a call inviting me to film a segment with her!
Little did I know, I would be in on one of the greatest surprises of my life! Brooke had NO idea I was coming to see her. Her little sister was even in on the secret! The plan was for me to surprise Brooke at home Sunday evening, with the cameras behind me and without the wig. And just as I rang the door bell of her home and walked through the doors, she saw my face and knew exactly who I was, even without the crown! The expression on her face was priceless; she was speechless. I felt like I was witnessing a celebrity siting! It was then that I realized the true power of the crown. This young girl idolized me for being brave enough to be on national television and show people that it is okay to be different- even in the world of pageants.
That night, Brooke finally warmed up about fifteen minutes later and found her voice. And once she did, we talked all night. And when I had to leave to get some rest, she asked if I could just stay in her room that night! It was so sweet to see how easily she warmed up to me. We both talked about going around without a wig, and she asked about how I explained Alopecia to my friends and people I meet. She asked if I ever had a boyfriend, and if people cared that I was bald. Answering those questions are so important because I wanted her to know that her hair, or lack thereof, should never hold her back from being the girl she wants to be.
The next morning, and the second surprise, was that I would be visiting Brooke's school with her and giving a presentation in front of the whole school about respecting others. I met with Brooke to ask her what exactly she would like for me to talk about, and whether or not I should wear my wig. She decided that I should, and so as I spoke to her peers about the fact that each of us are very different, and if we were all the same, the world would be a boring place! Then, I asked Brooke to join me at the front of the hall, and I announced that Brooke and I have something very unique in common- and I took my wig off. From the looks on their faces, none of them knew I had Alopecia until that moment! It was priceless!
After taking off my wig, I educated the students on Alopecia and let them know that it is not contagious and it is not terminal. And when I opened the floor for questions, over half of them raised their hands. Some of the questions were very similar to Brooke's, and as an effort to get Brooke to open up to her peers and hopefully feel comfortable sharing her own story, I asked her to answer some of the questions. Over the three days I was in Florida I saw her gradually open up and feel more comfortable with herself, and this was the start of that process.
That afternoon was the third surprise of the trip! One of the two wig designers I work with happens to be based in Tampa- not far from Plant City. Bobbi Russell, owner of Hair Therapy for Women, creates one of a kind hair pieces for women with all types of hair issues, from patchy balding, to thinning hair and of course, total baldness. Bobbi designed some of my hair before the Miss Delaware Pageant, and later I referred Miss Nebraska to her before the Miss America Pageant. Bobbi still provides Theresa's hair to this day.
I called Bobbi and asked if she wanted to be involved and possibly show Brooke a few replacement options. Brooke loved my hair so much, but her family could not afford a natural hair piece. Bobbi said without hesitation that she wanted to help in any way she could. So, Brooke, her mother, the cameras and I visited Hair Therapy for Women and Bobbi surprised Brooke with a free wig of her choice! And the funniest twist of all, was that Brooke selected the same piece Teresa and I wear!
Brooke lit up the minute she tried on the wig- it was like she was a whole new, confident girl! Not often do I suggest wearing a wig to young girls with Alopecia, but I do believe it is a personal choice, and if it makes you feel more confident, then why not?
All in all, the trip to Florida was beyond successful- it was life-changing. I feel blessed to have been a part of this segment and cannot wait to be a part of Brooke's life from here forward. She has been text messaging me and staying in close contact. And while I was in Florida I learned that the teeny-weeny little town Brooke lives in is also the hometown of my good friend, Miss Florida, Jaclyn Raulerson. Ironically, her father is even the Mayor of the town! In all the towns throughout the country, I was sent to her hometown. So thankfully, we were able to get together and catch up. I have been missing my Miss America sisters, so I loved every second of our visit!
Brooke and I were excited to learn that we would be reuniting in Los Angeles March 4th for the interview segment with the stars and hosts of "The Doctors". When we made it to LA I called, Jennifer, a friend of mine from the National Alopecia Areata Foundation who has had Alopecia since she was an infant. I knew that Brooke had never met another person who had Alopecia before she met me, and so I wanted to introduce her to someone else who could relate to what she is going through.
Ultimately, the finished product was incredible. I loved watching the piece when it recently aired. I cannot thank the Miss Delaware and Miss America Organizations enough for allowing me the opportunity to be a part of this segment, and also to CBS and "The Doctors" for inviting me to be on the program. After quite a long month of not so great news from my own doctor, this piece renewed my energy and my spirit to continue my year with so much love and grattitude for this experience.
Thinking about it much later and really reflecting on the impact I made in Brooke's life, it brings me tears of such great joy. THIS is why I love my job. Is it always easy? No. Is it always fun? No. But, is it rewarding? Yes.