2000 holes drilled in head!
10th May 2008
Forget the hairdressers. When Amie Cameron, 23, from Brighton, was looking for a mew hairstyle, only a man with a scalpel could help.
As the wind whipped my hair across my face, I felt a drop of rain on my forehead, and my stomach churned. ‘Please God, not now,’ I whispered, rummaging desperately in my bag for my brolly as the sky turned black.
Too late. Rain came pelting down on my dark brown, shoulder-length hair, making me wish the ground would swallow me up. But I wasn’t worried about my hair getting caught in my lipgloss or going frizzy in the damp. If only. I had an embarrassing secret. One I spent hours each morning trying to hide. And it only took the smallest gust of wind or a few drops of rain to reveal it. I was bald.
Not completely bald, so my head was shiny all over. Instead, I had two big, ugly bald patches. One was an inch wide and ran across the front of my head. The other was a big stripe that stretched right along the middle. If I styled my hair in a certain way, I could just about hide it. But now, as I caught a glimpse of my huge bald patch in a shop window, I choked back the tears.
It had all started back in 1995, when I’d had terrible pains in my right ankle. At Rotherham General Hospital, South Yorkshire, a scan had revealed a tumour on my spine that was pushing on my nerves and causing the pain. I’d had surgery to remove it and life had gone back to normal. Until two years on, when cancer had returned to my spine and brain. ‘You’ll need chemotherapy to get rid of it,’ the doctor had explained. I’d been horrified. I didn’t know much about cancer, but I knew chemo would make me go bald.
By then, I was a typical 14-year-old, who loved brushing her hair, wearing pretty clips and bobbles. Losing my hair had felt like the worse thing in the world. ‘I can’t lose my hair,’ I’d sobbed to my mum, Sharon, 52, holding on to my long, dark ponytail. ‘Please, Mum.’ ‘Maybe you won’t,’ she’d said, cuddling me. But she’d been wrong. After the first chemo session, my hair had started dropping out. By the time I’d had radiotherapy as well, I’d gone completely bald. I got a wig, but it was itchy and kept slipping off, so then I’d tried knitted hats instead.
The treatment didn’t get rid of the tumours, but it did shrink them and stop them growing. So, with that behind me and my hair growing back, I couldn’t wait to be normal again. Only it wasn’t that simple. As my hair had grown back, I’d looked in the mirror one day, and noticed something that made me burst into tears. ‘I’ve got bald patches,’ I’d cried to Mum, staring at them. ‘They don’t look that bad,’ she’d said kindly. But deep down, I knew they looked awful. So that’s when I’d started the ritual of brushing my hair for hours every morning to try to cover them.
And now, years later, as a nursing student at Huddersfield University, I still couldn’t get out of my daily ritual. Some days, I’d cope. But today hadn’t been a good one. And after seeing my bald patches in the shop window, I felt more like a freak than ever. No one will ever fancy me, I thought that night, sobbing into my pillow. I’ll never get a boyfriend or look normal. If only someone could wave a wand and make the patches go away. Was someone listening? I don’t honestly think so. But a huge coincidence was about to happen.
The next morning, Mum rang. ‘I saw a programme on the telly last night,’ she said excitedly. ‘It might stop you being bald.’ I’d learned from experience not to get too excited, but I couldn’t help feeling a little flutter of hope. ‘It’s worth a shot,’ I replied. At my next appointment with my consultant, in early 2006, Mum asked about the new hair weave technique she’d seen on the programme. The consultant referred me to a dermatologist at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, Sheffield.
As Mum and I sat in the office, a few weeks later, I couldn’t hold back the excitement. ‘You have two options,’ the dermatologist told me. ‘We can give you medication, but there’s no guarantee it’ll work. Or we can do a hair transplant.’ So there was hope! ‘The doctors will remove a 5mm-wide strip of your scalp at the back of your head, from ear to ear, and transplant the hair follicles into the front of your head,’ he explained.
The worst bit was yet to come. ‘To do this, they have to slice hundreds of tiny holes in your scalp and put a follicle in each one.’ Slice holes in my head?! It sounded like some sort of ancient torture technique. But I was willing to try anything.
‘I’ll do it,’ I said, feeling more hopeful than I had in years. The consultant wrote a letter to the NHS, asking for funding and, back at home that night, I was so excited, I couldn’t sleep. A million thoughts raced through my head. Would I have a thick fringe? Could I go swimming? Would I be able to tie my hair back? Would the operation help at all? These things may not seem like a big deal to anyone else, but to me, they meant the world.
Two weeks later, the doctor’s receptionist phoned. ‘Your funding’s been approved,’ she told me. ‘Yes!’ I shrieked, blinking back tears of happiness. The operation was planned for August 2006, at the Farjo Hair Institute, in Manchester. As the date approached, I blocked out the idea of my skull being cut and concentrated on the end result. Saying bye-bye to being bald.
When the big day arrived, Mum took me to the medical centre. ‘You’ll be awake during the surgery,’ the doctor explained. ‘But we’ll sedate you, so you won’t be able to feel a thing.’ True to his word, after I took a sedative tablet, everything went blurry. I then sat in a chair in the operating theatre, while the surgeon sliced out the back of my scalp and started making tiny holes into my head for each follicle.
Thankfully, I couldn’t see what he was doing. Instead, I focused hard on the telly screen in front of me, which was showing a nature programme. There was classical music playing, too, which helped block out the sound of the surgeon working. After eight long hours, it was over. They stitched up the strip at the back of my head, and I walked out of theatre without even a bandage on. ‘Can I look in the mirror?’ I asked Mum straight away. I couldn’t believe my reflection. The bald patches looked as if someone had drawn tiny red dots all over them. But, more importantly, there was hair! It was short and spiky, but it was there.
‘We transplanted all 1,900 hairs,’ the surgeon told me. ‘They’ll fall out because of the trauma of the operation but the follicles we transplanted will grow new ones.’ ‘Thank you,’ I gulped. ‘This means so much to me.’ OK, so I had nearly 2,000 holes in my head. But I didn’t care — I wasn’t bald any more. During the next few days, my head throbbed and the hair did fall out. But within a month, there was new growth.
Three months later, I plucked up the courage to do something most women take for granted. I visited the hairdresser. I sat there on edge as my hair was washed and styled, then I took a deep breath and looked in the mirror. ‘It’s amazing!’ I gasped, gazing at my fringe. For the first time in years, there weren’t any big bald patches staring back at me. Finally, I had a hairstyle. It even looked quite trendy.
A year on, my transplanted hair’s still growing. It’s not quite as thick as on the rest of my head, so I’m waiting to have another operation, to transfer some more follicles. Who knows how many holes they’ll slice into me this time? To be honest I couldn’t care less. I’m in remission from the cancer and I’m feeling great about that. And after all these years, I feel like everyone else. I love my job as a neo-natal nurse, and there’s nothing I like better than getting dressed up and going out with my mates. Because now, I have nothing to hide.