17 January, 2024

It was emotional, but we had such a laugh when she was doing it, and we just giggled all the way through,” says Karen Whitehead, talking about going bald for breast cancer which she did to support her friend, Lindsay Wilson and raise funds for Breast Cancer UK.

It was a chance comment from Lindsay that started Karen on the path to that decision. She was having her morning coffee before work and realised Lindsay hadn’t been around since starting her breast cancer treatment. Karen sent a message asking if she was up to coming out for coffee one of the days. It was the message back that launched Karen into action.

As Karen explains: “She sent me this email: ‘I don’t like going out at the minute because I’ve lost my hair, and although I’ve got a turban, I just feel people are looking at me. And I don’t like the wigs because they’re too hot and heavy’.

“So I just immediately emailed back, saying we could sort that. I’ll shave my head, and then people will look at both of us.”

Karen’s motivation to go bald for breast cancer

With her typical efficiency, Karen immediately set up a Just Giving page and told her partner it seemed that she was getting her head shaved: “He just said ‘Oh, alright!’, because he knows once I decide on something, then I’m doing it because I make fast decisions – and also because it’s about supporting a friend and raising money for charity.”

Lindsay is a barber, so she agreed to shave Karen’s head. The local press was at the event, although Lindsay was adamant that she didn’t want any photographs of her on social media.

On the day, Karen waited for her friend to arrive: “I was walking from one office to another, and I heard her speaking to somebody outside and asking if I was nervous. I put my head down the door and went, ‘I’m not as nervous as you, Lindsay!’

“Lindsay told me that she hadn’t slept all night. I reassured her that photographs wouldn’t be going up on social media, but she surprised me by saying that she’d decided to stop being scared. She said that if I could do the head shave, she could have her picture taken. It was a wonderful moment!”

An emotional moment

Karen admits the head shave was emotional, although the two women had fun, especially when Lindsay began by shaving a strip straight down Karen’s head.

“So, I had this long hair with a bald patch on the top and down the back,” laughs Karen. “The reporter from the Shropshire Star said that he thought I’d raise even more funds if I went round like that for a week!”

Just five minutes later, Lindsay had shaved Karen’s entire head. Almost instantly, the room’s emotion became palpable, pulling even the reporter into its grip. “He was so lovely, and after asking if he could give us both a hug, he put his arms around us in a big hug. That was just so joyous.”

Karen admits to hoping that her hair would grow back fairly quickly and says that she hadn’t realised how the weather would affect her: “When we went into the barbershop, it was brilliant sunshine outside. It was hot. When we came out, it was quite breezy, and the sun had gone, and I felt the colder air on my newly bald head!”

Despite that increased sensitivity, Karen decided against wearing a hat or other head covering: “I just went around bald. People did react differently at first. “After having my head shaved, I popped into our local co-op, and lots of people would try not to look at me.” Every time I caught their eye, they would look down at the floor or the other way. That was a bit weird. I didn’t mind because I had it done on purpose. But if I’d actually been fighting cancer, I would’ve found it more disturbing and upsetting.”

It was that reaction that made Lindsay reluctant to go out in public. But, since the head-shave event, she has now gone out for coffee with Karen. “We went to Starbucks, and I invited another friend who also had cancer. It was really nice to all be together,” said Karen.

Karen’s previously shoulder-length hair is now growing back: “It’s still very short, but I do have hair. It’s very dark, though, which I never had. I’m going to grow it a little bit longer, but I’m not sure I’ll grow it long again.”

And the fund raising has surpassed Karen’s expectations: “The response was just absolutely amazing, and we’ve raised more than £6,300. The messages of support were lovely.”

Gaining a deeper insight

The experience has given Karen a deeper insight into how people respond to visible signs of an illness. “People need to understand that they can be normal with someone going through cancer treatment. That you can ring up, have a laugh, and just talk about normal things. I think that’s what people don’t get.”

Karen says the whole experience made her aware that people are just scared of saying or doing the wrong thing. “I think it’s all about being the best friend you can be and being supportive and doing what you can. As Lindsay says, all people really need to do is just pick up the phone and say hello.”

If you would like to raise funds or bald for breast cancer for Breast Cancer UK like Karen, or take on a different challenge, email the team [email protected] to get started. See our fundraising pack here.

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