Sheila McNicol describes how the day she stopped wearing her wig was the day she came to terms with how she looked.
I didn’t believe it
Sheila’s first reaction to her breast cancer diagnosis was one of total disbelief.
She’d found a lump in her breast in early December 2014. But since her doctor thought it probably wasn’t something to worry about, she didn’t give it another thought over Christmas and New Year.
Tests confirmed, however, that the lump was breast cancer, and Sheila was given the news on 21 January 2015.
Sheila, 60 from Airdrie, describes a flurry of letters and appointments to meet healthcare professionals. ‘I thought: “Why are they doing this?” I expected a phone call to say they’d got it wrong.’
She even asked partner Ross to check it was really her name on the letters.
I was told I would lose my hair
Reality hit home when Sheila met her breast care nurse, who explained what was going to happen.
‘I was told I was going to lose my shoulder-length blonde hair, which I loved and had worked so hard to keep,' says Sheila, who had been blonde since her mid-30s. 'That’s when it really hit me that this was serious.’
Going through treatment was ‘horrendous’, and chemotherapy made her very ill. ‘I went totally off food, I was sick… I had everything going,’ says Sheila.
Sheila dreaded losing her hair most, and eventually went to a hairdresser to get it shaved off. ‘I waited until the last minute,’ she says. ‘Hair was falling out everywhere.’
Despite her initial fear, when Sheila’s hair was finally gone, she felt as if a weight had been lifted. ‘I thought: I can do this,’ she says.
Support from friends and family made ‘a huge difference’
‘I was very blessed to have people around me,’ says Sheila. ‘Ross, my partner, was amazing. We had only lived together for about six months when I was diagnosed. He didn’t let me get too down. He encouraged me all the way.’
Another source of support came in the surprising shape of a puppy called Bobbi.
‘Before I was diagnosed I had got a wee poodle. She helped me and Ross through a lot. When you feel dreadful, this wee thing gives you a lick and lies down next to you, and you feel: I can do this.’
Deciding to ditch the wig
After her hair had gone, Sheila was adamant that she would wear a wig until it had grown back.
‘I hated my wig with a passion,’ she says. ‘I hated wearing it and was terrified it would fall off. But I didn’t want to go out without it.’
However, a few months after her treatment finished, she had a sudden change of heart.
‘I woke up one Saturday morning in September. My hair was about a quarter of an inch long. I came downstairs and said to Ross: “I’m not wearing my wig anymore”.’
Sheila even phoned her mother and best friend Nancy to tell them she was ditching the wig. That night, she went out for the first time without it.
‘Ross’s family owns a nightclub. I went to the club that night with no wig on and I felt great. It was the first time I accepted me for who I am.
‘I wasted a lot of energy on the way I look,’ says Sheila, who no longer finds herself checking for roots in the mirror. ‘That person with the long blonde hair isn’t there anymore.’
You’re not alone
It’s now just over three years since Sheila was struggling to take in the news that she had breast cancer.
‘I’m doing really well,’ she says. ‘I’m a Volunteer Speaker for Breast Cancer Care and I’ve had a lot of fun in the last year since I started volunteering.’
Sheila also recently retired from teaching. ‘I lived to work at one point,’ she says. ‘I thought I would miss working, but I don’t.
‘I’m happy with life. I’ve got everything: my family, my home, Ross, the dogs. These experiences taught me that.’
Sheila’s advice to anyone going through breast cancer is to use all the support you can muster. ‘Family, friends, and information and support from Breast Cancer Care.
‘You feel lonely even though you have everybody around you. You feel like you’re the only person going through this. But then you find that you’re not.’
For some people, hair loss is one of the hardest parts of breast cancer treatment. You may like to read our information about breast cancer and hair loss.