For Jen, having her hair fall out was one of the hardest things to happen after being diagnosed with Stage 2 HER2-positive breast cancer in May 2019.
“It’s the actual falling out that was the most horrendous thing. I think I stopped talking for a few days, I stopped being my usual bubbly self.”
The now 63-year-old’s hair started falling out four weeks after her first chemotherapy dosage, which she had six lots of, one every three weeks.
“Clumps of it came out and I stood there for a long time in the shower and was quite upset. I didn’t think it would be like that.”
A life-changing experience
“Having breast cancer is a life changing experience, there is so much to remember, think about and deal with,” Jen says.
Jen’s diagnosis came as a shock with no history of cancer in her family but it was caught early thanks to a mammogram.
“My breast cancer was caught early as l had reminders from Breast Screen to do another mammogram. I’ve been having one every two years since I was 40 and it was caught on my 11th one.
Jen has had to go through chemotherapy and is also on the drug, Herceptin. She recently had surgery which was successful and healing well. Radiation is now on the cards.
“But after radiation, I’m done and dusted. The treatment has been successful!”
“My family have been there with me throughout, including my three children who all still live in Wangaratta. It was a shock to my mum and dad to see me with my hair out, so the wig helps them too. My six brothers and sisters have all been really supportive as well.
“My husband Steve thinks l look like I've always come from the hairdresser. He has done everything, cooked, cleaned come with me to all my treatments and appointments, and even held my hand in public, which after 45 years of being together, must say something. He has really looked after me.”
Jen is looking forward to heading back to work as a home carer after her radiotherapy treatment.
“I’ve been there for 17 years so have had a lot of personal leave up my sleeve which l have taken, so I haven’t had the worry of money – I’m very lucky l suppose in that respect, and I can't wait to get back to it, now that everything is looking rosy.”
The gift of a wig
Jen received great care at her local health centre in Wangaratta, and was told about Cancer Council’s support services, including free wigs.
“l thought l would have to wear beanies and caps until my hair grew back. l was thinking people would see me up the street and think, ‘oh poor Jen she has cancer’. So, l filled out your form took a selfie and sent it in and heard from a nurse straight away!
“They were so nice on the phone and we chatted for ages, they were so interested in what was happening to me and I knew what l was going through which makes a difference.”
“The first wig l put on was the one, l love it. All the anxiety and fear of losing my hair was gone in an instant. My doctor thought l hadn't lost my hair when l saw him, and when I sent photos to my family, they said ‘what wig?’.
“I know my hair will grow back, thank goodness, but while l wait, l have heaps of confidence going out in the world knowing it looks like a new hairdo. Friends and family say it's better than my own hair, that's OK l think so too. I am so lucky one aspect of this road to recovery has been made easy.”