PUBLISHED ON: 21 November 2018

When Kate was diagnosed, her daughter Hana set up the Weekly Wigs project to support her during chemotherapy. They explain why it became so important to them.

Kate and Hana in wigs

Kate:  My first thought when I was diagnosed was Hana

I was diagnosed with breast cancer on 6 June 2012. I discovered a lump while changing after swimming, but as I’d had a clear mammogram in the autumn, I didn’t think too much of it.

I went for my first appointment with the consultant straight from a week’s island retreat, so I was feeling quite relaxed.

When I was told I had breast cancer, I was shocked. My first thought was my daughter, Hana, who’d already had to go through the death of her sister, Emily. My diagnosis came at exactly four years, to the hour, since Emily’s funeral.

My pragmatic streak kicked in. I knew we’d have to get through it, one day, one hour, one minute at a time. Initially, that meant getting packed to go on the holiday my husband Roger and I had planned in the Scottish Highlands. Going away gave us time to process the news ourselves before telling anyone else. 

We worked through it together

We stayed with Hana in Glasgow on our way home and I worried about the best way to tell her.

She had taken the day off, and we planned to explore the city going to galleries and teashops. When sitting over breakfast, I told her that I had some news. I told her we’d found some lumps, that they were cancer, I was going to have a mastectomy to remove them and that we would take it from there.

Throughout the day, Hana asked any questions as they came to her, and we’d talk it through. Spending that time together helped us work through the news.

Chemotherapy day became 'wig day'

I had a mastectomy, followed by lymph node clearance on my right side. This was followed by six lots of chemotherapy, three weeks of radiotherapy, Hereceptin, letrozole and Zometa.

When we discovered that I’d need chemotherapy, Hana suggested making me a weekly wig, which she would send a photo of every Monday morning.

It was a great idea. Monday was chemotherapy day, but gradually it became wig day. I’d wake up to a message on my phone, with a new wig to distract me from how I was feeling and what I was going through.

It made me smile every week, knowing how much thought she’d put into the wig, and that she had sat down and spent a long time making something for me.

I started sharing the photos in the chemotherapy unit, showing the nurses, the patients – anyone I met really!

The response from everybody was amazing. I started getting asked, 'Oh, have you had this week’s wig?'

We took it one day at a time

Hana and I have been through a lot together, and throughout my treatment I was conscious of not putting too much pressure on her. But I know she wanted to support me and felt frustrated that she was so far away.

We got through it by taking one day at a time.

Hana in a homemade wig

Hana: I knew nothing about breast cancer

I was terrified when Mum told me she had breast cancer. I didn’t know anything about it and felt guilty for living so far away.

 After my sister died, I had severe anxiety about my family’s health, so the news was difficult to manage.

I wanted to give her something to look forward to

When Mum started losing her hair, we had a good laugh over some of the wigs that she tried on (Jackie Collins hair was a highlight!)

As an artist I use found and recovered materials in all my work, and love comedy, costume and drag. That was the ethos behind the Weekly Wigs project. I wanted to use my skills and sense of humour to give Mum something to look forward to on her chemotherapy days.

I knew that she was being well looked after by her breast care team in practical ways, so I felt this was something I could do to support her from Scotland.

We all needed some light relief. The loss of my sister taught us that good support lies in being a steady and loving presence, and that being given permission to laugh over something is a lifeline.

Hana in her moss wig

The wigs helped me manage my own fears

My favourite wig was the moss and lichen wig, which included a full beard. We had a great time photographing me emerging from a ditch full of twigs!

Lots of the wigs were made or photographed in situ – train tickets on the train, the snow wig and the beach plastic wig where a whole group of friends helped to bury me in the sand.

Nothing was careful or considered – I had to be spontaneous and resourceful. It didn’t matter – my only criteria was making Mum laugh.

The great thing about the project was that I had to ask people to help: finding materials, photographing me and occasionally sticking errant mossy eyebrows back on!

This was an easy way of starting conversations around Mum’s diagnosis and finding support. It also helped to give me a tangible way to cope with my own fears. I had anxiety and OCD, related to my family and their safety. It’s something that was exacerbated by Mum’s diagnosis. Having the wigs to focus on was a way to manage my mental health.

The wigs helped us talk about breast cancer

I think the Weekly Wigs project has potential to help other people; it certainly helped us both. The wigs gave us something fun to focus on and a way to talk about breast cancer that didn’t just focus on the medical side of things.

I'd love to speak to more people receiving cancer treatment, or supporting a loved one, about how to take it forward – get in touch!

Find out more about the Weekly Wigs project on Hana's website.

 

If you're worried about telling your loved ones about your diagnosis, our support pages could help.

Telling family and friends about breast cancer