Bernie Nolan talks breast cancer, chemo and hair loss
I caught the last few minutes of TV star and lead vocalist of the 80s pop group the Nolans, Bernie Nolan, on GMTV yesterday as she spoke about her treatment for breast cancer. Bernie revealed that, like many women choose to do, she shaved her head as her hair started falling out in clumps during chemotherapy. “The thing is, my hair was falling out anyway, and it was all tufts here and tufts there, and it looked worse” she said “I looked like somebody who was really ill – ha! – which I don’t consider myself. And I just thought “Get rid of it,” I’m in charge of this disease, not the disease in charge of me. And I thought I’m taking my hair off, so that’s what I did.”
I like that attitude! And she is right, it is easier to mourn the loss of hair in one sharp shock than to do it on a daily basis. A fact I wish I had realised at the time of my own treatment as I clung on to my rapidly diminishing sparse hairs. I was like a shaggy dog shedding hair everywhere I went, leaving a trail behind me – on the floor, my clothes, cushions – the pillows when I woke up in the morning were covered with hairs and it was even in my mouth. After three weeks it was almost all gone, except for a few random wispy clumps. When I stood in front of the mirror I could see my grandpa staring back at me, an old man, with greying skin and wispy bits of hair. So yes, Bernie you are right to take control in this way.
However, she said losing her hair had been traumatic, confessing ‘Initially, when I was first diagnosed in April, I was like hair, schmair, if it has to come off then it comes off, that sort of attitude. But your hair is your femininity and for me it was a big part of who I am actually, my hair, more than my breasts, I’m not a booby woman. But it had to be done and you have to be strong, and it’s a new look, not one that I would choose, but I felt good when I’d done it.’
Bernie is halfway through her treatment and her doctors are pleased with her progress, as the chemotherapy is reducing her tumours. She is the third of her sisters to be diagnosed with breast cancer within the past 10 years. However, tests have revealed that she is not a carrier of the cancer gene, which she says came as a huge relief to her because of her 11-year-old daughter Erin’s potential risk of contracting the disease.
I have to say I really admired Bernie watching this interview – she pulled no punches when it came to the brutal reality of chemotherapy and while I usually hate to use that hackneyed phrase of “brave”, I felt she did come across as gutsy and brave. And she is not alone. Right now there are many women out there who are in the same position, who are shaving their heads, making decisions regarding treatment, going to chemo sessions, caring for their families, and getting on with things. It is amazing when you look back on it from the prospective of a few years and see how far you have come. I look back on my own chemotherapy and the many dark nights of the soul on my own journey, but I can also see how my journey with cancer took my life in new directions and down paths I never would have walked ordinarily. I wish the same for Bernie Nolan and all those on their own journeys with cancer.