Island Life Magazine Ltd December 2008/January 2009 - Page 25

INTERVIEW life My new hair Lauren Ford was just 22 when she was diagnosed with cancer. She wants others to benefit from her experience of coping with the disease, and as a hairdresser she has a unique opportunity to make a difference. She talks to Roz Whistance IT’S hard enough – oh so very hard – to be told you’ve got cancer. But somehow it seems all the more unfair, all the more of a cheap trick, if you are just starting out in life. When Lauren Ford, an attractive 23-year-old hairdresser, and mother of a little boy, was diagnosed with a rare form of the disease she thought the end was in sight. This is her story: she has turned devastation into inspiration, and is determined to help others where no help "No-one talked to me about what to expect, so when my hair came out in handfuls I was devastated. I had to get my mum to shave the last two patches on my head." was forthcoming for herself. “I loved my hair,” says Lauren. “I never had more than a centimetre cut off.” She is a sparky bright-eyed girl, looking fit and well, and her hair today is crafted in a funky spiked style. “Three weeks after I started chemotherapy I was fiddling with my hair and five strands just came out in my hands. The more I pulled, the more it came out. I was left with two patches of hair on my head.” Now some might say ‘What’s all this about hair? She’s recovering from cancer, she’s alive, that’s the main thing.’ And indeed it is. But, as they say about international conflict, you not only have to win the war, you have to win the peace. In order to regain the person she once was, Lauren had to get back to looking normal – and that had to be a different normal. It is the importance of surviving the after effects of treatment that she wants to pass on to others. “I didn’t tell anyone I was ill,” she says, “because I didn’t want them to think I was going to die.” That was precisely what she thought when she was told she had a tumour. “I asked: does that mean I’ve got cancer? The consultant said yes, but the odds were in my favour. As I cried my eyes out I thought: how can he compare my life to ‘odds’.” Two years ago Lauren had discovered a lump in her stomach which was diagnosed as endometriosis. The lump grew – she looked six months pregnant – until her doctor said they should get it out to have a look. It turned out to be a female form of testicular cancer called dysgerminoma – an extremely rare condition but curable without the need for chemotherapy if caught early. But too much time had passed between her discovery of the lump and its correct diagnosis. Lauren’s ovary and fallopian tube had to be removed, and she was put on a punishing course of chemotherapy. From February to May she spent every Wednesday at Southampton General hospital, and every three weeks she had to spend three days there. “Chemotherapy causes your body to swell up. I went for treatment in my jeans and by the time I came out I’d be bursting out of them, waddling up the road.” This is one of many facts about cancer treatment which she feels isn’t widely-enough known. She believes the more information you have the better you can mentally prepare yourself. There was a lot to deal with. “In the ward I was surrounded by old people who might not be going to get better, and The Island's new funky radio station I’m thinking ‘I’m not going to get better either.’ ” She would have loved to have been with other young people – even on unisex wards – rather than feel as isolated as she did. “I never had anyone to talk to.” She hated not having the energy to play with her little boy, and says she could see he was confused by the change in her. However, because he was so young at the time he has forgotten that period. Lauren wasn’t offered a MacMillan nurse, and it was her mother who lovingly and devotedly cared for her. “My mum was amazing,” says Lauren, her eyes welling up. “She took me and my little boy in – she was so strong! She’d only just lost "I feel let down. I want to make people aware that more help is needed. Just because you’re young doesn’t mean you can’t have cancer." her own mum to cancer so it was hard for her to watch me go through it.” She adds: “It would have been good to have someone else to talk to, because you worry about worrying your family.” Lauren doesn’t gripe or moan. She is amazingly stoic about everything that has happened to her. But there are many aspects of her illness and recovery that she believes should have been dealt with in a better way, such as the provision of information and counselling. Perhaps inevitably, given how rare her particular form of the condition she had, there was nobody on the Island who could give her information, and it wasn’t until half way through her treatment that she received a leaflet about it. 25