When pensioner June McLetchie lost her long-time best friend in a car accident, she wanted to do something to honour her memory. The two women had fought breast cancer together, so she thought it fitting to help others struggling with the condition by volunteering with a newly launched cancer hair loss service in Kilmarnock.
HeadStrong, based at Crosshouse Hospital in Kilmarnock, is a programme which aims to help women suffering from cancer come to terms with any hair loss they have experienced as a result of chemotherapy. The service provides a variety of scarves, hairpieces and hats.
Ms McLetchie, 81, was diagnosed with breast cancer at the same time as her friend Audrey 10 years ago, and both were eventually given the all clear. Speaking recently on why she decided to volunteer with HeadStrong, the pensioner said: “[Audrey] had cancer at the same time as me but she was tragically killed in January. She had encouraged me to do this before her death [and] the accident made me think life’s too short, it just made my mind up that I needed to do it.”
Hair loss service for cancer sufferers
HeadStrong is a hair loss service set up by Breast Cancer Care, and operates from a number of centres across the UK, often based within hospitals. It is entirely run by volunteers, who run a number of sessions in which free help is provided to cancer patients who have, or are about to lose their hair as a result of cancer treatments such as chemotherapy. As well teaching women how to conceal their hair loss, the programme also helps them to cope with it by providing information on how to look after their scalp and addressing any hair loss questions they may have.
For June McLetchie, it was her own experience of cancer-related hair loss which motivated her to get involved with the programme.
“The worst part of my treatment was being told by the doctor that I’d lose my hair in three weeks,” she said. ”I used to have long dark hair and when the chemotherapy started, I lost every hair on my head. I’m quite confident as a person normally but it was a horrible experience and completely knocked my confidence.”
Chemotherapy and hair loss
There is sometimes a misconception that having cancer causes hair loss, but it is the cancer treatments themselves that are the cause for this. During chemotherapy, patients are injected with drugs which attack and destroy cancer cells, limiting their ability to grow and multiply. Unfortunately, the drugs do not discriminate over which cells they target, and healthy cells, such as hair follicles, can also come under attack.
When hair follicles are damaged by chemotherapy treatments they cease to grow and hair loss is common. This process is usually temporary and the hair should grow back after the treatment has finished. The hair loss experienced at the time of treatment, however, can be a highly distressing side effect for individuals who are already having to cope with the physical and psychological challenges of having cancer. The aim of the HeadStrong foundation is to ease this distress somewhat and help to restore the confidence of women who have lost their hair as a result of cancer treatments.
More information about HeadStrong can be found at http://www.breastcancercare.org.uk/about-us/our-services/local-support/headstrong/ . The website includes contact details for all HeadStrong centres across the UK.