A SUNDERLAND hairdresser, who specialises in hair loss and wig services, has helped transform the looks of two women to make a stand against cancer.
Ashlea Anderson, 34, and Molly Richardson, 18, are both being treated for cancer and have both lost their hair as a result of treatment.
To help raise awareness for this year’s Stand Up To Cancer, a joint campaign from Cancer Research UK and Channel 4, local hairdresser Nicola Wood at Kitui Hair Design, took on the challenge to give them an extreme hair transformation.
Ashlea, mum to Joel, 14, Ivy, 6 and April, 3, was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer in May. She underwent a lumpectomy, has completed three rounds of chemotherapy and continues to receive chemotherapy every week.
The Special Educational Needs teacher at Portland Academy, who was diagnosed in May, said: “I found a lump that didn’t feel normal so I went to the GP. Despite doctors feeling confident that it wouldn’t be anything because I’m young, tests revealed it was cancerous and that it was the rare triple negative type, which means it doesn’t respond to normal treatments in the same way.
“Telling my mum I had cancer was hardest part. Even harder than telling her I was pregnant at 18! It’s not just your diagnosis, it’s a whole family diagnosis so it’s been hard for everybody.”
Since starting treatment Ashlea has discovered she carries the BRAC1 gene mutation, which increases her risk of developing breast cancer and some other cancers compared with the general population.
Ashlea said: “My children and family are now very much part of this diagnosis as they too may carry the gene so will need to be checked.”
As a side effect of her treatment Ashlea began to lose her hair, something that she was initially very worried about, but when it happened she got everyone involved in her own transformation.
“My first thought was am I going to lose my hair, and when it started to fall out I was sad as it felt like that was part of my identity going, but then we got the kids to help me cut it off and it’s quite nice now to be able to just pick up a wig and go.
“Wearing a wig makes you feel like you don’t have cancer. For that time you can just feel normal. That’s why Nicola’s wig service and salon has been incredible to find. She was able to reassure me that my hair will grow back, but for now I can have a great quality wig that feels just like hair instead.”
As part of the makeover Ashlea modelled a bright orange wig, the campaign colour of Stand Up To Cancer, in a long blunt cut design.
Made from around 100,000 strands of real hair, from seven heads of hair, and designed just for the campaign, Ashlea looks almost unrecognisable.
Ashlea, who writes a popular blog Three Kids and Counting, said: “I just love the striking colour and boldness of it. I feel full of confidence when I have it on.”
While Ashlea was embracing orange as part of her makeover, college student Molly was enjoying new luscious, long locks.
Molly, from Washington, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia* (ALL) in February 2018 when she was 16 and studying at sixth form.
Since then she has been receiving chemotherapy and will continue to do so until June 2020.
Molly said: “Before I was diagnosed I was really poorly. I’d lost a lot of weight and had numerous infections that I couldn’t seem to shake. Following a blood test at the GP I was sent to A+E and from there transferred to the Royal Victoria Hospital where I was told I had leukaemia. I was admitted into hospital and began treatment straight away.
“The initial part of the treatment should have taken 6 months, but due to a number of side effects and reactions, including having to learn to walk again due to the amount of time in bed, it took 11 months. I’m now in the maintenance part of chemotherapy, which is designed to keep the cancer from returning and I’m much more stable.”
Molly’s hair fell out in thick clumps at the beginning of her treatment, but she was too poorly at the time to even think about getting a wig. Now that she is stronger she has visited Nicola’s salon and got a bright peach coloured wig for her first style.
“I wasn’t really worried about losing my hair and I just shaved it off which I was alright with”, said Molly, whose hair is starting to grow back, “but it’s strange having hair again now, especially as it’s starting to grow back thick and curly, totally different to my straight hair before. I wanted to go as bold as I dared with my first wig and loved it. Now for this makeover I wanted to embrace the really long hair, as it’ll be quite some time before mine is this long again.
“I feel really pretty having real hair again and it’s nice to take control back. I did try on a dark straight wig as part of the makeover, but that was too much like my old hair and it was quite hard to see in the mirror.”
Nicola, who owns The Wonderful Wig Company operating from Kitui Hair Design in Sunderland, started working with hair loss in 2017, when she faced her own cancer diagnosis.
Since then her and the team have become Sunderland’s only independent NHS approved wig service and patients with medical hair loss at the Freeman and RVI hospitals and other NHS hospitals are also able to use their payment voucher at the salon.
Nicola, 40, said: “I was treated for breast cancer in May 2016 and it led to my own exploration of the hair loss experience. I realised that finding good quality wigs, that looked like real hair was a huge problem. I would sit in the hospital and see so many people wearing wigs, the difference in a good and bad one was shocking to me. I realised there was something I could do to try and help, not only to provide good quality products, but a service and experience that helped people with hair loss gain their confidence back.
“As a result I’ve created a purpose-built hair studio at my salon specifically for men, women and children with hair loss. They get the experience of a luxury hair salon, but with the added privacy of the hair loss studio to make them feel comfortable and relaxed in our care.
Molly said: “At the salon nobody stared at you for being bald and you didn’t feel uncomfortable being there. Instead Nicola knew exactly how it felt to go through treatment and was reassuring through the whole process.”
Nicola added: “Wigs are as individual as our own hair and require the same level of care and attention. Myself and the team trained with Trevor Sorbie, so we are able to offer the best in modern hairdressing, with the very best cutting and colouring techniques of wigs to provide a truly personalised hair loss service for everyone.”
As part of the hair consultation clients are also given a tutorial in eyebrow application and their first regrowth haircut.
Nicola said: “Been able to offer this service and becoming an approved provider for the NHS has been the proudest moment of my life. I hope to continue to expand it to more people and continue to be able to help women at such a difficult time in their life.”
As part of Stand Up To Cancer Nicola and the team made bespoke wigs for the makeovers and gave Ashlea and Molly the chance to completely transform their normal look, with the added sparkle of glamourous makeup by Melissa Wharton Makeup and a studio photoshoot with Lisa McCormick Photography.
Nicola said: “The girls look incredible in their new styles and it just shows how much a good quality wig can change your confidence. They look sensational!”
The team hope people across the region will be inspired by the makeovers to embrace their own hair-raising challenge for charity and raise money for research.
Ashlea said: “I’m proud to stand up to cancer with Molly and have loved this ‘hair-raising’ transformation. Getting involved is a great way to cut loose and break from the norm – all in aid of a good cause.”
Supporters are being urged to make a stand by getting involved in Stand Up To Cancer’s ‘Fortnight of Fundraising’ from 11- 25 October and signing up for a free fundraising pack.
Since it was launched in the UK in 2012, Stand Up To Cancer has raised over £62 million to fund 52 clinical trials and research projects that could really make a difference for people with cancer in the North East and across the UK.
Lisa Millett, Cancer Research UK spokesperson for the North East, said: “Thanks to the incredible progress made in the last few decades, more people are surviving cancer than ever before. But there’s still so much more to do.
“Cancer is unforgiving, unpredictable and relentless. But by standing up to it, with a united pledge to fundraise for ground-breaking research, we can beat it at its own game.
“Supporting Stand Up To Cancer enables scientists to explore brave new ways to fight the disease and develop radical treatments, meaning more lives are saved. There’s power in numbers and if we all work together we can defeat anything, even cancer.”
Stand Up To Cancer scientists are developing new tactics to boost the immune system’s ability to take out cancer cells. They’re creating cutting-edge technologies to detect cancer cells in the blood, which could transform the way cancer is diagnosed. And they’re using MRI to turn radiotherapy into a more precise, personalised and powerful anti-cancer weapon.
Stand Up To Cancer is supported by a host of celebrities including Davina McCall, Alan Carr, Maya Jama, Greg Rutherford and Joe Lycett.
This year’s campaign will see a dedicated season of programming on Channel 4.
To get involved visit su2c.org.uk