In May 2005 I was in a good space. I had a great family and an amazing career that took me all over Australia and overseas. I was busy – busy, but good.
During an arduous work trip from Melbourne to Canberra, in a motel room in Wagga Wagga, I discovered a large lump in my right breast. That day my world turned upside down.
I was extremely comfortable with being assertive and demanding the best care available to me at the time. My wonderful oncologist still calls me Mrs ‘I don’t have time for this, just fix it’ Smith.
She told me that my treatment would cause my entire body to lose any hair I had. I replied that that was the least of my worries. She stroked my hand and said, ‘I think for you, it will be something that will concern you’
I worked in the fashion and cosmetic industry for many years and my hair was just part of who I was and how I presented myself to others. I was very upset when after two treatments I did indeed lose my hair.
However, I was prepared! I bought a wig online – big mistake – then went to a wig salon in Victoria. The staff were helpful, but had no idea what I was going through. There was no empathy or sympathy. They were very young and, given that I was a customer service trainer, I felt that they were more focused on the sale than the person sitting in front of them.
I was approached by the unit manager of the oncology ward where I was having treatment to be a part of a team interested in setting up a free service for the Mornington Peninsula, providing wigs, hats and scarves to any woman living in our area who had lost her hair due to chemotherapy.
I had been fortunate enough to have received the My Journey Kit before surgery and so was already connected to BCNA.
The BCNA team was amazing once they heard of our idea for the peninsula, and they quickly provided contact details and information that saved us from ‘reinventing the wheel’. We will be forever grateful for the networking opportunities they provided with free, regional, volunteer-run wig services.
Fast-forward 11 years. We started with 12 donated wigs and our service now has 1,100 plus on our books. We have a dedicated statistician who records monthly information we need for ordering purposes. We have three sites on the peninsula and to date have helped more than 1,500 women to adjust to a ‘new normal’ after hair loss due to chemotherapy.
Now we are the go-to service to provide information and training for volunteers establishing local wig libraries. BCNA links us to local hospitals and groups so that they too have no need to reinvent the wheel.
So, I have traded in the black suits, the briefcase, the stress, the 80-hour working weeks for an unpaid (not unrewarding) Volunteers Coordinator position with the Peninsula Community Wig Centre.
I work closely with BCNA as a Consumer Representative and Community Liaison. I was thrilled to be asked to be one of the faces of this year’s Bakers Delight Pink Bun campaign.
Breast cancer did not change my life – it changed the way I view my life. Giving back is so rewarding, it is the little things that count. My role in the wig centre is my way of saying ‘Someone is here for you – we get it’.