Nearly everyone I meet comments on my short, bright pink hair. I love it too and feel more confident and empowered than ever before.
Although I have my own hair now, it was the pink wig I wore during breast cancer treatment that changed the way I look. Losing my hair made me realise how important it is to have access to a decent wig.
And that made me want to help other cancer patients facing the same problem.
I was 31 when my life changed forever. Married to Matthew and with a high-pressure job in HR and an active social life, my days were busy and carefree.
As our sixth wedding anniversary approached, Matthew and I had a weekend away in a cottage to look forward to, plus a trip to Glastonbury with friends.
We’d also been talking about starting a family in the not-too-distant future.
But then I started to get a sort of tingly, shooting pain in my boob, like little electric shocks.
At first I thought I was just premenstrual, but when the sensation struck again in the shower, I checked my breasts and, to my horror, I felt a lump half the size of an egg.
Deep down I knew I was probably facing cancer, but the diagnosis four weeks later, in May 2017, was still a massive shock. I remember saying to the nurse, “Are you joking? Have you got my results mixed up with someone else’s?”
I was angry, raging and crying. I thought I was too young to have cancer and didn’t know how I’d cope. Thank goodness Matthew was there.
He’d lost his dad to breast cancer a few years before. It was devastating for him to see me facing the same illness, but I couldn’t have coped without his quiet support.
Following tests and scans, I was told I had HER2-positive breast cancer, one of the most aggressive types.
The cancer had spread to my lymph nodes, so it was considered stage 2. I’d need surgery to remove the lump, targeted drugs and chemotherapy.
The thought of the surgery was terrifying but when I heard the word chemotherapy, I panicked. I couldn’t bear the thought of being bald.
My long, dark hair was my pride and joy. So when chemo was mentioned, the first thing I asked was, “Am I going to lose my hair?”
When it was made clear that I would, I immediately asked about wig options. A nurse rummaged through a box and pulled out a wig that she said I could get on prescription on the NHS.
I was horrified. It looked like a cheap Halloween wig and was totally unsuitable for someone my age.
I soon discovered that NHS wigs are designed for older women, not for women like me. What’s more, they were shiny and bulky and made it obvious you were wearing a wig. It all added to the distress of losing my hair.
Finally, after a lot of research, I bought a £400 natural-hair wig from a specialist shop, with help from friends and family.
I’d wanted one that looked like my own hair, so I could feel like me again, but after experimenting with a long, white blonde one like Daenerys from Game Of Thrones and a grey one I called my “Gandalf the Grey” after The Lord Of The Rings character, I eventually plumped for a bright pink one.
My cancer treatment was a gruelling, often lonely experience, but I tried to stay positive. On the ward, I started hearing heartbreaking stories about patients who couldn’t afford a wig, or, like me, wanted one that was more suited to their age.
One single mum couldn’t afford to pay the £75 NHS prescription fee, because she had two children to feed, so she wore scarves.
A pensioner, who was not receiving pension credits, said she’d prefer to spend her money on two weeks’ worth of groceries than a wig.
I hated the thought that patients were being denied access to something so important to their wellbeing, so I started fundraising from my sick bed via GoFundMe. Eventually I founded my own charity, Wigs For Heroes, helping patients at the North Middlesex University Hospital where I was treated.
So far we’ve raised £20,000, which will be offered as grants for patients to buy wigs. I’m hoping to offer the service at other hospitals in impoverished areas too.
Once my hair had grown back to around three inches, this time greyer and curlier, I had it dyed pink. It made me feel so positive – the new me. Matthew loved it too, saying how much it suited me and how confident I seemed.
Six months after getting the all-clear and just weeks after I’d returned to work part-time in January last year, my cancer came back. I couldn’t believe I’d have to go through the treatment again.
The cancer was in exactly the same place, but this time I had a mastectomy, along with more drugs and chemo. It was an ordeal, especially the surgery, and there were complications. I’ve been left with heart failure because of the drugs, but I’m so grateful that the cancer has now gone and I’ve just celebrated a year in remission.
I now have to take medication daily to help keep my heart stable for the rest of my life. Even though I have a broken heart, it’s still full of love and I will always have a desire to help others. And this time around, I didn’t lose my hair, which really helped me stay positive.
I’d learned so much the first time that I carried on writing diary entries and advice on my Wigs For Heroes Instagram, and set up support events on our Facebook group. Every Sunday we do Wigging Out Weekly when we discuss things such as how to wash your wig. And I’m working with other charities, such as Macmillan, to make the process of choosing a wig smoother and less stressful.
It may seem trivial when your very survival is at stake, but it’s so important for cancer patients to have a wig that makes them feel better about themselves.
I’m a different person post-cancer. I’ve retrained as a barber and I’m taking it one day at a time. I had treatment to freeze embryos, so maybe I’ll have children one day. None of us knows what the future holds, but the most important thing to me is to stay positive and love life.’
BREAST CANCER: THE FACTS
Each year, about 55,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK. It’s more common in women over 50. Men can also get breast cancer, but this is rare.
● Our breasts are made up of cells. Sometimes one of these cells becomes abnormal and keeps dividing. This abnormal growth can then develop into breast cancer.
● A lump in the breast is the most common symptom of breast cancer, but not in all cases, and not all breast lumps are cancerous.
● HER2-positive breast cancer is when the cancer cells have too much of a protein receptor called HER2 (human epidermal growth factor receptor 2) on their surface.
Macmillan and its official sponsor Zalando have teamed up for this year’s Coffee Morning to help support people like Kaz. Visit Co ee.macmillan.org.uk to find out how you can get involved. You can follow Kaz on Instagram @kazfoncette and @wigsforheroes.