A North East nurse and breast cancer survivor is raising awareness of the support available to people affected by medical hair loss, through charity, mynewhair.
Julie McDonald from Penshaw, Sunderland, was diagnosed with cancer of the right breast in May 2017. As she came to terms with what her treatment pathway involved, the Deputy Director of nursing at South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust, Julie, who is now in remission, had surgery at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Gateshead, and chemotherapy at City Hospitals Sunderland, followed by radiotherapy at Freeman Hospital. The chemotherapy treatment, which affects some people with only partial hair loss or thinning, caused Julie to lose all her hair, and knowing this would happen was a big blow to her self-esteem.
Having successfully come through her treatment, Julie’s hair is now growing back. She wants to share her story so that other people going through similar experiences of hair loss can get the support they need. Julie said:
Following surgery I was told I would undergo a course of chemotherapy and the Oncology Nurse Consultant explained to me that I would lose my hair. I felt really anxious about the treatment and I really wanted to choose a wig before the chemotherapy started.
My nurse told me about mynewhair salons who work with the NHS to provide high quality wigs, so I got in touch with Darren Stuart from Tribeca Hair Salon in East Boldon. The fact that Darren was willing to see me before my treatment started was a huge help.
He was even willing to see me before I had received my wig voucher, which was a huge help. When I contacted him he just invited me to visit right away for a chat. I took a close friend with me and he showed me lots of different wigs and talked me through everything. He really made it a great appointment by putting my worries to rest and helping me feel prepared for my treatment.
On her journey to regain her health and self-esteem, Julie was supported by Darren from the mynewhair salon who had been trained by the national charity founded and inspired by celebrity hairdresser, Trevor Sorbie MBE. The charity provides training for stylists to enable them to offer a wig styling service for people suffering from cancer and medical hair loss.
Talking about her experience, Julie said:
My appointment with Darren was a really positive experience. I took a close friend with me and after trying on several options I found a style which matched my own hair. Darren ordered the wig in exactly the right colour and styled it so the wig looked like my own.
It was so reassuring going in for my first chemotherapy appointment to know that I already had my wig. By my third bout of chemotherapy I had lost all my hair, including my eyebrows and eyelashes. It was very distressing, but my wig was a lifesaver. It gave me the confidence to carry on with life as normal.
As losing hair can be a traumatic experience for people, mynewhair also has mobile hairdressers as part of their national network who can offer their services to people in the comfort of their own home. Julie continued:
A lot of people didn’t realise that I had lost my hair and commented on how well I looked although I didn’t actually feel it. While I was really anxious about losing my hair, it wasn’t a big deal in the end because I had my wig and it made such a difference. I think if it had been a poorly fitting wig or it didn’t look like me I would have struggled, but actually I quite liked wearing my wig.
mynewhair has trained hundreds of hair professionals around the UK and Ireland to provide a responsible and compassionate wig fitting and customisation service to those experiencing medical hair loss. Julie said:
I can’t thank Darren and mynewhair enough for their support. Thanks to them I could still go out and see people during my treatment and feel more like myself.
My experience with the charity was brilliant and I wouldn’t hesitate to advise others affected by medical hair loss to reach out to them. The charity’s network of ‘Salons that Care’ is really professional, experienced and are able to provide you with excellent help and support.
Darren Stuart, one of the charity’s founders and a key part of the education team, said:
I’m delighted to have been able to support Julie and give her a wig to help regain her self-esteem. For many women like Julie, having a styled wig that’s tailored just for them can help overcome the missing link in their treatment, giving them a more positive outlook during such a traumatic time in their lives.
Medical hair loss can be devastating for so many people and the work that we do really does make a huge difference to people’s lives. As I supply the wigs, I cut and style them so that my clients look like they did before they lost their hair - or transform them with a totally new style if that’s what they prefer. There is just something rewarding about knowing that something as simple as a personalised wig is helping someone go through what might be the toughest time of their life.
mynewhair provides training seminars for hair professionals, following completion of which these professionals become part of their salon network - Salons that Care. The charity currently has 13 Salons that Care in the North East alone and 17 stylists operating in the salons, including two that work at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary.
Ann Fox, Executive Director of Nursing, Quality and Safety for Sunderland NHS Clinical Commissioning Group, Visiting Professor at Sunderland University and Chair of the mynewhair board of trustees, added:
Being involved with mynewhair and the charity’s education team from the beginning, after many years as a cancer nurse and senior nurse, is a privilege.
Alongside my nursing academic colleague, Joanne Atkinson, Head of Subject Nursing, Midwifery and Health at Northumbria University, we’ve used our experience and the study of caring for cancer patients to incorporate supportive communication skills into the training stylists receive. This helps to prepare stylists for some of the difficult and sensitive situations they could encounter.
To find out more about mynewhair visit www.mynewhair.org
You can donate to the charity by texting MYNH00 followed by the amount you wish to donate, to 70070.