'My wavy blonde hair was my identity and to lose that felt really awful'

Caroline Breck shaved off her own hair during chemotherapy and now hopes to set up her own hair loss clinic.

Caroline Breck spent two decades helping women care for their hair.

When the 36-year-old mum of two was diagnosed with breast cancer, she lost her hair while receiving treatment for the disease. 

She told Scotland Tonight: “It was really tough. It’s traumatic to hear the words you’ve got cancer. Life is never the same again really. 

“Growing up in the hair industry, I had an acute awareness of how much your hair is so much a part of your identity. And mine certainly was. I had long, thick, wavy blonde hair. And to lose that as well as everything else just felt really awful.”

During her chemotherapy, Caroline shaved off her own hair. She chose to wear a “cold cap” during her remaining chemotherapy sessions which helped to prevent her from permanently losing her hair.  

She described a cold cap like “an ice pack almost on your head, which cools the body temperature right down in that area and stops the chemotherapy drugs from reaching the follicles”.

She added: “It was six hours at a time with this and it was agony but it was well worth it.”

Caroline Breck wearing 'cold cap'.Contributed

Caroline’s experience with losing her hair made her aware that in a rural area like Orkney, there’s little support for women who need help with styling wigs, or finding an alternative hair piece. 

“I’m hoping to set up my own clinic between Orkney and Edinburgh,” she said. “There’s no provision for wigs in Orkney, if you have an NHS provision you have to order one through the hospital which is usually Aberdeen.

“There’s no one there to help or to fix it if anything goes wrong, so I think I would like to offer that service up there. 

“It made me realise that to make that a more positive experience in a tricky time for people would be a really good way of turning a negative, traumatic period of my life into something positive.”

In Glasgow, Joni Ewart is one of only a handful of hairdressers who are trained in female hair loss. 

Joni creates bespoke natural hair pieces at her salon, Vault Hair & Beauty, known as a Mesh Integration System. 

Joni Ewart.STV News

She said: “If someone has a certain area of their hair that needs covered, we fit what looks like a scalp on top.

“We sew it in place, so it stays on the hair rather than a wig that gets taken on and off every night. This stays on for about four weeks and then it needs to be tightened again.  

“With the mesh system, you’re still blending it in with the clients own hair or how it used to look so it can look very natural if done correctly.”

Clients can wash their own hair and go about their lives as normal. 

The mesh underneath the hair is taken off and professionally washed every three months before being put back on again. 

While it isn’t a long term solution, the human hair used for the treatment can last for a full year or more. Prices start at £350. 

Joni said: “It’s a lot of money and there’s a lot of upkeep but I think when you see the results, it’s amazing. You’re there for a good four or five hours so you’re gonna talk about the issue of why they’ve lost their hair, the treatment they’re getting done, what’s going on in their life.

“It can be overwhelming when you’re doing their hair. It can be upsetting and they’re laughing and there are tears but to see a woman walking out the door with hair like she used to have is amazing.”

Mesh integration system treatment.STV News

Bridgeen King is a hair loss specialist. She trained in Scotland and now travels across the UK and Ireland, sharing her expertise with hairdressers. 

She said: ”As a woman, your hair is your identity. It is a true saying, it’s your crowning glory. You’re not trained in hair loss when you’re doing your hairdressing.

“Most hairdressers just don’t know where to source the wigs and they don’t recognise the scalp conditions. It’s really just sharing that knowledge with the hairdresser to create bespoke hair pieces and recognise the issues with the client.”

Watch the full report on Scotland Tonight on the STV Player.

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