A LIFELINE has been thrown to cancer patients in the Lothians who face the “devastating” prospect of losing their hair.
Breast Cancer Care says that the side-effect of cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy can ravage the confidence and body image of patients.
But in a bid to help them cope, the charity has set up a new clinic in Edinburgh which will offer counselling to prepare patients for hair loss, as well as practical advice on headwear and scalp care.
The service, which will run weekly at the Western General Hospital, will be staffed by six trained volunteers, many of whom have first-hand experience of hair loss having been through cancer.
Mother-of-two Lisa Tait, of Corstorphine, was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2011. The 56-year-old went through surgery and radiotherapy and said she was determined to give something back to other patients, having been given the all-clear.
Mrs Tait worked as a medical secretary at the Edinburgh Cancer Centre, but has taken early retirement following her treatment, feeling the job had hit “too close to home”.
“You get over the initial shock and the treatment, but hair loss does affect your confidence,” she said. “Not having a lot of hair or having no hair is a very visible sign to other people. You can cover up everything else, but you can’t cover that up.
“It does take time to build up your confidence and get your self-esteem back. The main idea behind this is to help people cope and teach them how to make the most of scarves, hairpieces and alternatives to wigs.
“I lost a lot of my hair during treatment and it took me quite some time before I got my confidence back and was ready to move forward.
“I genuinely wish a HeadStrong service had also been available to me locally, so I’m really pleased such a valuable service has now been set up in Edinburgh.”
The free HeadStrong service, which is being run in partnership with Macmillan Cancer Support, has been funded by a £20,000 grant from the Bank of Scotland. Each appointment lasts an hour and is confidential between one patient and two volunteers.
The new clinic was launched yesterday by TV presenter and nutritionist Amanda Hamilton at the Western. Until now HeadStrong has operated a fortnightly service from St John’s Hospital in Livingston, but it has never been on offer in Edinburgh.
Angela Harris, services manager at Breast Cancer Care, said: “Losing your hair as a result of cancer treatment can be a traumatic experience, but one which we believe people shouldn’t have to face on their own.
“It’s wonderful to launch a HeadStrong service here in Edinburgh and offer free, local support to women that can boost their confidence and self-esteem after cancer treatment.
“I would urge anyone facing hair loss as a result of cancer treatment to get in touch and find out more about how HeadStrong can help them.”
Appointments take place on Mondays. To book, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0141-353 8330.
Follicles recover quickly
CHEMOTHERAPY works by targeting cancer cells and disrupting their growth. But the anti-cancer drugs used can also affect healthy cells in the body, including hair follicles.
Unlike the cancer cells however, hair quickly recovers following chemotherapy, meaning it will almost always grow back once the treatment is complete, although it may be a different colour, or curlier, straighter or finer than before.