Sam Cummings is used to the concerned questions from strangers.
“A lot of people are nice, they ask me how I’m doing,” said the Lake Park senior, a member of the Lancers girls basketball team. “They ask if I’m in radiation. Most people on the street assume I have cancer.”
Cummings does not have cancer.
The condition she has is alopecia.
Alopecia is a rare condition affecting some 0.1 to 0.2 percent of the population where the person experiences a loss of hair. A notable case is Charlie Villanueva of the Detroit Pistons.
There can be a number of causes, including damage to the follicles, and varied forms. It does not cause pain or sickness, and it is not contagious.
Cummings does not know how she contracted it. She was born with hair, but it started falling out soon after. Her parents sent her for tests when she was 1, where she was diagnosed with alopecia. The Cummings tried a number of solutions, from medications to lotions. Sam’s hair did not grow back, and it probably never will.
She speaks of it in a matter-of-fact, albeit soft, tone of voice.
“That’s how I grew up, that’s all I know,” Cummings said. “It doesn’t drag me down.”
Cummings comes to East campus to work with Lake Park coach Andrea Miller’s freshman algebra class. Miller can’t remember a word of the alopecia ever brought up.
“I admire that about her. For her, it’s nothing,” Miller said. “I asked her about it, and she’s perfectly fine talking about it. She certainly stands out, but I’ve never heard her make a negative comment.”
Cummings is too busy branching out to an eclectic list of activities.
She loves music, used to play in the school band and owns three guitars, noting “it’s a hobby. It makes me happy.” She enjoys a photography class and is fascinated about the idea of boot camp training with the army. Like most kids her age, she isn’t sure what she wants to study in college and might try a community college first.
In so many ways Cummings is just like any other high school senior.
Miller, though, sees a mature thoughtfulness, a positivity just as unique as her alopecia.
The first day of camp team competition last summer, Cummings’ team won and the other group was required to run sprints. Cummings ran with the losing team.
Cummings’ hero isn’t a pro athlete or actress; it’s her 28-year-old brother, married with an 8-year-old daughter, because, “that’s where I want to see myself when I’m older. Being the wealthiest person, it isn’t the most important thing.”
Miller often will congratulate her girls on a good effort after games. Cummings is one who will return the favor, complimenting Miller on a job well done coaching.
“She’s sincere about it,” Miller said. “She has a maturity about her that she gets it. She’s been a good addition to us, a positive addition.”
It is good to have Cummings back.
As a junior she chose not to come out for basketball. There were time issues with other sports, namely softball. Cummings hadn’t played as much sophomore year. She was losing interest.
Friends harped on her to come back. At the same time she found she missed it.
Cummings’ positive attitude, for sure, has been tested this season.
Lake Park remains winless as the regular season winds down. Injuries cost Cummings five or six games.
But then, she’s never been one to buckle her knees when life throws its little curveballs. Miller said Cummings was the first one with suggestions when she was sidelined.
“You do want to win every game,” Cummings said, “but a lot of our scores are close. We play our hearts out to the last second. The score does not indicate how hard we work.”
One of just three Lake Park seniors, she also knows her legacy can extend beyond the next couple weeks.
“I always think about that,” Cumming said. “I’m going to be done soon. They still have another year left. I’m not going to slack off for the rest of the season. I’m going to give it my all, make them better.”
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