By CHRISTINA BLIZZARD
Thanks to support of Sun readers, Scarborough mom dares leave her house after 17 years of hiding away.
When she walked through the doors at the Sun, I didn’t recognize her.
Stephanie had changed beyond recognition. And not just on the outside.
When I first wrote about her back in May, Stephanie had been virtually house-bound for 17 years.
The Scarborough mother of four suffers from a medical condition that causes extreme hirsutism.
When I interviewed her in May, Stephanie, 35, had a full beard.
She suffers from polycystic ovarian syndrome, a hormonal illness characterized by irregular or no periods, acne, obesity, and excess hair growth.
Women with PCOS are at a higher risk for obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and uterine cancer. There is no cure.
Some women have a very mild form of the condition. Stephanie has the acute version.
As she told me, tearfully, at the time, she wouldn’t even go to events at her children’s school. Kids can be cruel and she feared her youngsters would be teased because of her appearance.
Stephanie first contacted me when I wrote about the government funding sex change operations.
Her young life had been destroyed by her medical condition, yet OHIP wouldn’t pay the estimated $6,000 in laser hair removal treatment she needed. She tried painful bleaching, waxing, shaving and other methods. They simply made it worse.
I was overwhelmed by the response of my readers. Support, and offers of cash came from right across the province. Barbara Harrison from the Spa Club in Ottawa contacted me to offer Stephanie free laser hair removal treatment.
She has now started that treatment with Kim Duignan at the Spa Club branch in Pickering. They have provided free treatments every week since June.
Now she is transformed. She’s all smiles and no longer hides behind long hair. She was even brave enough to pose for Sun photographer Alex Urosevic.
With stories like this, it’s usual to have “before” and “after” pictures. We have no before pics, because Stephanie wouldn’t have her photo taken “before”.
The only photograph we had of her was taken 20 years ago. Her hair is now in a stylish bob.
“I cut my hair. For me that was a part of hiding my face. I kept it long for all these years, so this is a huge, big deal,” she explained.
Eight months ago she wouldn’t answer the doorbell. Last week, she had enough confidence to attend a family wedding. This summer, she took the kids to the zoo.
Her oldest son is playing guitar in his school’s Christmas concert. For the first time, Stephanie plans to attend. From now on, she will go to all the concerts.
So far, Stephanie has had 17 laser hair removal treatments. By October, she could see they were working.
“The women at the Spa Club are the most beautiful women — inside and out,” Stephanie told me.
“These people are so compassionate, so understanding. They have seen me at my worst and they can’t believe that the government wouldn’t help me.”
Stephanie emphasizes there are other women out there who have the same condition. None get help from OHIP to deal with this heartbreaking syndrome that makes life so unbearable for them.
Stephanie is getting by with help from family and friends who’ve stuck by her. One picks her up and takes her to Pickering every week, another takes her out to lunch.
Her youngest son, Lucas, likes to stroke her soft face.
Now Stephanie wants to get her life back to normal. She’s looking for work. She wants to play hockey.
“I don’t want to look like a movie star,” she told me back in May. “I just want to be normal.”
Thanks to the Spa Club and the outpouring of support from Sun readers, she’s getting her wish.
“You gave me this opportunity and I am not going to blow it,” she said.
At this time of year, we all make lists and check them twice. We throng the malls looking for just the right gift. For Stephanie, the greatest gift was simply to be able to go shopping, without people staring.
Sometimes, the greatest gifts, are the simplest things of all.