WHEN Chris Laing was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after the birth of her second child, she feared she wouldn’t live to see her little girl walk.
When she found out that she had developed secondary cancer 18 years later, she was devastated – but says she also felt lucky that she had gone so long without a reoccurrence and confident that she could successfully fight the disease again.
One thing that the 56-year-old from Wickham knew was that this time she would definitely lose her hair – but as a hairdresser she wasn’t willing to give up on her crowning glory while she underwent chemotherapy.
Chris was diagnosed with cancer of the liver and bones in April this year, but before her chemotherapy treatment started in May she set about getting a wig.
She and her eldest daughter, Carly, went to some of the biggest shops in London, but weren’t happy with the service they received or what was on offer.
Chris was already thinking about refitting her hairdressing salon, Wispers, in Wickham, and her experience of buying a wig convinced her to add a wig consultancy to the new-look business.
She and one of her stylists, Nic Watkins, went on a training course which covered issues such as grief and anger that customers losing their hair, particularly through disease, may experience as well as practical styling tips, and Nic styled two wigs for Chris, ready for when she needed them.
“For me, especially as a hairdresser, it was a nightmare to be told that I was going to lose my hair,” says Chris. “It’s funny though, because although my hair came out, once I’d made the decision to take it off – which my husband did for me – I can’t tell you how fabulous I felt putting my wig on.
“Because your hair starts to deteriorate once you’re having chemotherapy, I felt absolutely transformed once I put my wig on.
“Everyone said I looked great, because of course, your hair looks fabulous everyday when you’re wearing a wig.”
Chris says that looking good was an important part of her feeling good and helping her to have the strength she has needed to face cancer again.
“I just want to be me,” she says.
Chris without her wig - her hair has started to grow back
“It’s been incredibly important for me to be able to look good while I’ve been having my treatment.
People say ‘you look so well’ and I haven’t felt unwell. The treatment has got so much better than when I first had it.
“I haven’t had any duvet days – I’ve been up and going to work.
“Because I’m in the hairdressing industry, I wanted to look normal and feel natural and that nobody would know I was going through the treatment.
“A friend of mine who is also a hairdresser came to see me once I’d started my treatment and said ‘when are you going to lose your hair?’ When I told her I was wearing a wig, she couldn’t believe it!” laughs Chris.
Carly adds that seeing Chris looking good has helped her cope with the fact that her mother has cancer.
“It’s definitely helped me that she looks so well,” says the 28-year-old.
“I think the thing I was most frightened of was the day when Mum looked really poorly and like she had cancer.
“The day I knew she had taken her hair off, I was really worried about her looking frail and poorly but that hasn’t happened.
“I will quite often badger Mum to take it easy and not do too much, but at the same time, if she went the other way and didn’t want to do much, I think I would find that hard to accept, because she’s such a determined person.
“I feel very lucky about how strong and determined she is, because that gives me every confidence that she will get through it again.”
While she was undergoing chemotherapy, Chris decided to go ahead with a refit to the salon that had been planned.
“I knew it had to be done,” she says.
“It would have been easy to think that I didn’t have the energy or mindset to get into it, but somehow you have another way of thinking. I thought that this was something I needed to do because it focused my mind on something positive. I didn’t want my staff to think I was giving up either.
“My mind has been on my business and focusing on the future. I haven’t felt there wasn’t going to be a future for me.”
Part of that business is the new wig consultancy, and Chris is excited about sharing the feeling she had when she wore her wig for the first time with her clients and helping them to feel the same.
She and stylist Nic will be helping clients to chose the right wig for them and styling it for them personally.
Chris with stylist Nic
Chris has finished her chemotherapy and her hair has started growing back but she’s wearing her wig until it’s back to its previous length.
The tumour on her liver has shrunk from 3cm to 1cm and she says her doctors have been very positive.
“I’ve adjusted to the idea of living with cancer,” she says. “I’ve had some moments when I’ve felt really sad about the whole thing but I haven’t let myself think about life before the diagnosis. If you thought like that, it would be quite disturbing.
“I just think that something has happened to me and this is a way of life now.
“I have to remember I’m very lucky. When I had Claudi, I didn’t think I would live to see her walk, and here I am and she’s 18.
“Now, having cancer again I feel confident because the treatment has moved on. I don’t think it’s as scary this time round.”
For more information, visit wispers.co.uk or call 01329 835678.