A senior nurse has spoken about the emotional impact of losing her hair during cancer treatment and how wearing a specially-made wig gave her “confidence to carry on as normal”.
Julie McDonald, deputy director of nursing at South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust, was diagnosed with cancer in the right breast in May 2017.
“It was very distressing but my wig was a lifesaver”
Ms McDonald, who is now in remission, had surgery at her trust’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Gateshead, then chemotherapy at City Hospitals Sunderland, followed by radiotherapy at Freeman Hospital in Newcastle.
Ahead of her chemotherapy, she was informed by the oncology nurse consultant that she was likely to lose her hair.
Ms McDonald, from Penshaw, Sunderland, said she was “really anxious” about the prospect and was keen to get a wig before treatment started.
Her nurse referred her to mynewhair, an NHS-backed charity that offers a specialist wig service to people who have medical hair loss.
julie mc donald without her wig
Ms McDonald got in touch with one the charity’s founders, Darren Stuart, who met with her ahead of her first chemotherapy session to find a wig that worked for her.
“My appointment with Darren was a really positive experience,” Ms McDonald said.
“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,” she said.
“It was so reassuring going in for my first chemotherapy appointment to know that I already had my wig,” noted Ms McDonald.
“By my third bout of chemotherapy I had lost all my hair, including my eyebrows and eyelashes,” she said. “It was very distressing but my wig was a lifesaver. It gave me the confidence to carry on with life as normal.”
“Medical hair loss can be devastating for so many people”
Ann Fox, executive director of nursing, quality and safety for Sunderland Clinical Commissioning Group and visiting professor at Sunderland University, is chair of the mynewhair board of trustees.
She said: “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.”
The charity has trained hundreds of stylists around the UK and Ireland to provide a responsible and compassionate wig fitting service to patients who lose their hair.
Ms Fox said she and nursing academic Joanne Atkinson, head of nursing, midwifery and health at Northumbria University, had used their experience and the study of caring for cancer patients to inform the training package.
She added: “This helps to prepare stylists for some of the difficult and sensitive situations they could encounter.”
Mr Stuart said the stylists were able to craft the wig to make patients look the same as they did before or give them a completely new image.
He said: “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.”
The charity provides training seminars for hair professionals who go on to become part of its Salons that Care network.