“Is your hair going to fall out, mum?” was the question my youngest son asked me when I finally got the courage together to tell my three boys that I needed chemotherapy.
That was Monday June 23, 2014. Ten days after I’d first found a lump in my left breast, four days after a biopsy that came with positive news (“No plans for chemo.”) and just two days after a lumpectomy came with the hammer blow of “It’s worse than we thought. You will definitely need chemotherapy followed by a course of radiotherapy.”
It hadn’t really sunk in. I’d sat in the car park of the hospital with my husband, Joe, and we had both just sobbed together. Then we drove home to tell our three sons, Alessandro, 15, Luca, 12 and our youngest, 11-year-old, Matteo. I had to be as positive as possible as I looked at their faces as they sat round the table. Although I’d had a lumpectomy I would need chemotherapy treatment which would start in six weeks’ time. I was going to be fine because I was their mum and all five of us were going to get through this together.
So when Matteo asked about my hair, I just smiled, nodded and made a joke. “It’s a good job your dad’s a hairdresser,” I said. “And don’t worry. It’s just hair. It will grow back.”
I didn’t know what to expect with cancer and chemotherapy. I didn’t know I would go off my food or be so sick I had to be carried to the loo. I didn’t think so many of my friends would be there to hold my hand. I didn’t expect to laugh or to cry. I didn’t imagine I would find myself sitting in a room full of other women with breast cancer being shown how to apply make-up to my bloated face. I never knew how much I would appreciate five minutes cuddling with my sons.
When my wife, Lina, was diagnosed with breast cancer it changed my life.
It made me the weakest man I had ever been and it made me the strongest man I will ever be. It made me see that I – a guy who’s been a hairdresser since the age of 15 – could actually do something to make a difference. It gave me a mission. And that is Hair Reborn.
I cried when I first cut Lina’s hair. It was just after we’d been told she would have to have chemo. She sat in the salon smiling at me in the mirror as I cut her long hair into a bob. I was floored by her courage as much as I was floored by her cancer.
I can’t even actually remember the moment – a few months later – that I stood in our hallway and shaved off the few sad strands of her beautiful hair. My brain has blocked out that particular pain. But three years on, I have a crystal clear memory of the first Hair Reborn client whose hair I shaved, because I was able to look into her eyes and tell her that her hair would grow back and that I would be here and I would do everything in my power to make her look and feel great. Cancer doesn’t scare me anymore.
I’m not a doctor. I don’t understand cancer but I do understand hair and I do understand what you go through emotionally and physically when that chemo rips through you and takes your health, your dignity and your hair.
I saw what it did to my brave, optimistic wife as her hair fell out and the sickness set in. It made her frightened. It made her falter and that made me step up big time as a husband, as a father and as a man. I knew the chemo had to kill the cancer but there was no way I was going to let it kill Lina’s spirit or damage her sense of her incredible self.