How Headstrong has been helping those with cancer facing hairloss for the past five years

Breast cancer care nurse Chris Weight with the Headstrong team.Breast cancer care nurse Chris Weight with the Headstrong team.
Breast cancer care nurse Chris Weight with the Headstrong team.
1 hr ago / Nicky Findley / NickyFindley
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“FORGET the cancer, I only cried when I lost my hair,” Jenni Murray once told me in a searingly honest account of how she faced every woman’s secret fear.

The former presenter of Radio Four’s Woman’s Hour revealed it was the first time she had wept after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006.

“I hadn’t shed a single tear through the diagnosis, my mastectomy nor the news that I needed chemotherapy. But now, the simple act of losing my hair had reduced me to an inconsolable wreck.”
And she’s not alone. Christine Bailey from Verwood who went through treatment for breast cancer eight years ago says: “I found hair loss particularly difficult to come to terms with because for me it had always been my crowning glory. You also lose your eyebrows and eyelashes too.”

It was this experience that prompted Christine to become a volunteer for Headstrong, a free service based at the Jigsaw unit at Royal Bournemouth Hospital for anyone facing hairloss as a result of cancer treatment.

And it was Christine, along with the other volunteers and The Tulip Appeal, a Dorset based charity, who stepped up to save the service when Breast Cancer Care pulled the plug on it back in June.

“The service was first launched at the hospital in 2011 and I’ve been involved for around four years. I wanted to put something back into the community because I was so well looked after,” Christine explains.

At a one-to-one appointment clients have the chance to learn how to prepare for possible hair loss, tie headscarves and use hats and hairpieces to help reduce its impact.

They also learn how to look after their hair and scalp before, during, and after treatment and will have the chance to talk through any concerns with specially trained volunteers, most of whom have had a personal experience of breast cancer.

Christine adds: “I wish this sort of service had been around for me. I would have so benefited from it and also meeting someone who had already been through it would have made such a difference at the time.”
Specialist cancer care nurse Christine Wright who is based at the women’s health unit in the Jigsaw building has been a clinical nurse specialist for the last 15 years.

Christine says she was devastated when she heard the charity was stopping the Headstrong service.

“It is self run and the costs were small. We even asked if the volunteers could do it without giving the ladies the scarves because all the help, information and advice they also provide is invaluable too.

“But because Headstrong had become a national service, the overall costs were too much, but I was under pressure from the girls – the volunteers – to keep it going and I felt I couldn’t let them down.”

Christine added: “People think of old nanna scarves but they are so glamorous and can really compliment an outfit. It is also a good alternative to wigs – especially in the hot weather.

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“And it’s not just scarves, we also have hats, beanies, turbans and even hair pieces which you can arrange underneath – there are lots of little tricks of the trade. It’s all about helping women to maintain their dignity.”

Gina Carson of the Tulip Appeal, says they are always keen to try and provide little extras for breast cancer patients.

“When we heard about the service being pulled we approached Christine to see if could help and it went from there,” she explains.

Every year around 41,500 people are diagnosed with breast cancer in England. For many people, losing their hair can be one of the most traumatic parts of cancer treatment as it can have a devastating effect on their confidence and body image.
Christine Wright adds: “We started Headstrong at Bournemouth six years ago so they’re no longer just my volunteers, they’re now my friends.”

For more information about the Headstrong service, call 01202 704 524

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