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Celebrating 22 Years of Transforming Lives

Angela Steatham’s Story

06 February 2023

Well, the moment I had been both dreading and being excited about came! After having my long hair cut short so that I could donate a decent amount to the Princess Trust, the next step was to have my real hair system fitted.

I knew that this would require me to have my head shaved and this was the part I was dreading – would my head be a weird shape, would I look like a man, would it be cold? The answers to these questions are: no, a little and absolutely yes!

But let me take you back to how I was able to benefit from the donation of a beautiful real hair system (they aren’t called wigs at this clinic)… When I first knew that I would lose most of, if not all, of my hair, my good friend from school days, Sarah, contacted me to say she’d like to visit and share with me her own treatment experience for breast cancer. (You can read about her visit in the post ‘Breaking the habit of a lifetime’). As we discussed the side effects of her own chemotherapy, we naturally touched on hair loss and how she coped with that aspect of the treatment. Sarah shared that she had been extremely fortunate to have a real hair wig donated to her by the amazing Pete Murtha, who owns the Optima Hair Specialists in Edgbaston, Birmingham.

Sarah encouraged me to call Pete and explain my situation and I did so the next day, receiving incredible empathy from Pete, as well as overwhelming generosity and optimism. He told me that he would ensure that I had my natural hair replaced with a system which was as close as possible to how it was before it started to fall out – I didn’t quite believe this would be possible at the time but was still so incredibly grateful for his kind offer. Fast forward to my appointment and, as you can see below, Pete and his team absolutely delivered on their commitment! (The first photo is my ‘old’ hair!)

On the morning of my appointment, I was very apprehensive but also determined to make this a positive experience. My dear friend, Tracy, accompanied me and my brother, Simon, kindly drove us from the valley in North Wales to the city of Birmingham; the nerves must have set in because I pity poor Tracy having to listen to me witter on for the 90 minutes it took to get to the clinic (my brother sensibly took out his hearing aids)! Having left in plenty of time, to take into account the traffic, we arrived an hour early and so Tracy and I found a fabulous boutique hotel a 2-minute walk from the clinic, where we sat outside getting our caffeine fix. The time of the appointment arrived, and we stepped into the Optima reception, receiving a very warm welcome and had a few minutes to take in the walls of testimonials in the waiting area – clientele include the Beckhams and Ozzy and Sharon Osborne, so I felt in good company! Jade, the ‘hair angel’, met us and took us upstairs to a private room where she explained the process and revealed to me my own, custom-made hair system.

At this point, I was overwhelmed and in shock that what I was seeing on the polystyrene mannequin head was an exact replica of my hair that had been cut off only 2 weeks ago! Jade had spent time styling it like the photos I had sent, and I couldn’t wait to see it on, which is why I happily put on the plastic apron and encouraged Jade to get going with the clippers! Jade recommended that I face away from the mirror while she shaved my head, explaining that most women find it traumatic to watch this part of the process. It felt very strange my short locks falling from my head and, as it was removed, the chill set in. However, I didn’t find this difficult at all as the excitement of fitting my new hair was greater than the concern about going bald! Once I was as bald as the day I was born, Jade turned me round to face the mirror and what I saw wasn’t ‘me’, of course, how could it be, having lost something I have seen every day for the best part of 58 years?! I think the first thing I said was “I look like my brother”! However, I didn’t have long to take in my shaved head as, within minutes, Jade showed me how to attach the adhesive tapes to the hair system and popped it onto my head, ensuring it was secure and positioned correctly. Once again, she turned me to face the mirror and this time, the reflection in front of me was, well, ME! Tracy’s reaction matched my own – astonishment and tears, but tears of joy!

As my official photographer and chief cheerleader, Tracy assured me that she’d captured the transformation on camera and neither of us even thought about infection control as we both hugged Jade for my gift. At this point, Pete wandered into the room and asked how it was; before I could speak, I jumped out of the chair and hugged him for all I was worth – this kind, generous man had gifted me back my mojo and dignity, how could I put that into words?

After a few more instructions on how to care for my hair in terms of washing and conditioning it, drying, and styling it, we were ready to leave. I couldn’t stop touching my hair, staring into the mirror to see myself looking back with gorgeous, long, blond hair, so realistic, that it even had my darker blond roots!

The journey back to Wales took only just over an hour and I spent much of it touching my hair and trying to catch a glimpse of it in the rear-view mirror from the back seat, almost as if I had to make sure it had really happened! Once I arrived home, I was able to take off my mask and see myself for the first time with my gorgeous locks and Cheshire Cat grin and I haven’t stopped smiling since. I feel so fortunate to have been gifted my hair and I am going to create a painting for Pete and the clinic to show my gratitude; it feels inadequate in many ways, but given my financial situation, it’s the best I can do, and it will be created with love. I can only hope that Pete and Jade sense how much their gift means to me.

The last few days have still been difficult in terms of my pain levels and fatigue, but at least now I can be sick looking glamorous! My new night-time routine includes taking off my hair, as well as brushing my teeth and, as it’s very chilly being bald, I replace my hair with a beanie – it’s a good job I live alone! This journey was always going to be a rollercoaster, but the ups still outweighed the downs. I have had my faith in people’s kindness and generosity confirmed, learned that I am resilient and, most importantly, I’m alive and able to find joy and happiness, even on the tougher days!

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