In a week’s time Deborah Parsons will shave her hair off in public in readiness for chemotherapy while telling women ‘check your boobs, it saved my life’.
Since June, the 52-year-old Sidmouth mum-of-three has been on a ‘rollercoaster ride’ of hospital appointments, breast cancer diagnosis – bereavement when her mum died unexpectedly – and a mastectomy and breast reconstruction.
If that was not enough Deborah is facing a year of chemotherapy, meaning 12 months of money worries because, fearing her treatment will make her sick, she has given up her successful cleaning business, Maid in Sidmouth.
To coincide with Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Deborah, a gran-of-two, is urging women to attend their NHS mammogram invitations, even if their boobs feel normal.
Next week, Saturday, October 12, you can watch Deborah have her head shaved at Fields of Sidmouth, in Market Place, as she raises funds for Sidmouth Living with Cancer Support Group.
Jane Trevett, Deborah’s mum’s hairdresser of more than 40 years, will begin the head shave at 2pm, in the lingerie department by the mastectomy bras.
Deborah, mum to 13-year-old Sidmouth College student Bethany, Dale Coleman, 29, Sammy Ellaway, 31, and nanny to three-year-old Ruby and George, one, wants to share her diagnosis as a warning to women not to ignore their breast check appointments.
She said: “I am apprehensive about shaving my hair. Your hair is your crowning glory. But if it makes one person who is apprehensive about their mammogram, go to their mammogram, what I am doing has done its job.”
Deborah was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer after a mammogram check at the Manor Road car park mobile unit – an appointment she cancelled and rearranged.
“I had no lumps at all. I had no idea. I have never felt so fit or so well, which is scary. It would have invaded everywhere,” said Deborah.
“In mid-June I was sent an appointment to go to the mobile mammogram unit in Manor Road car park. It was an inconvenient appointment so I phoned up; it was very quick to change it.
“I want to highlight how easy it is to get an appointment.”
“I went along. It was five minutes of discomfort – there’s no doubt about it.”
Some three weeks after her check-up, Deborah received a letter telling her further tests were needed. An ultra sound scan and biopsy under local anesthetic was arranged at a special unit in Marsh Barton, Exeter.
“It was uncomfortable but I don’t want to put women off from going,” said Deborah. “There was lots of poking and prodding. It was two hours lying on the table with my boob squashed while they took this biopsy.
“It wasn’t very pleasant, but it saved my life. The type of cancer I have got is very aggressive.
“Ten days later I went on holiday – I have never felt so fit and well in my life.”
Feeling optimistic, Deborah, who was widowed 14 years ago while pregnant with her youngest daughter, went on holiday to north Wales and climbed Mount Snowdon while she waited for the results of her biopsy.
She was ‘devasted’ to learn she had aggressive pre-cancerous cells in her breast ducts and breast tissue.
The biopsy revealed she had DCIS, a non-invasive breast cancer, and a 4mm invasion.
“I was totally bemused when they wrote to me asking for a recall,” said Deborah.
“They say only one in twenty women recalled have cancer. I thought I would be told ‘you are much too wicked to die young’. But I was one of the twenty. And I know of two other women who were diagnosed the same time as me.”
She added: “If the mammogram appointment is inconvenient, phone up and change it. But make sure you go to it. It could save your life. It’s just five minutes of discomfort.
“You don’t have to have a lump, you don’t have to have any symptoms, you don’t have to be a smoker, you don’t have to be a drinker.”
While Deborah was waiting for a mastectomy, her mum died unexpectedly, throwing the family into total shock.
Deborah found 77-year-old Carole Parsons on the bedroom floor of her Stowford home. She gave her beloved mum CPR until help arrived.
“Six days before my operation my mum passed away. I found my mum in her bedroom. I gave CPR until the air ambulance arrived but she was gone,” said Deborah.
“She was going to have Bethany for me while I was in hospital.
“I have got to keep positive for Bethany. She was really affected; her grandma was her best friend. She was like a second parent to her.”
It was older daughter Sammy and husband Ronnie who stepped in to help when Deborah went into hospital, finding Bethany a last-minute seat on a flight to join them on their family holiday abroad.
Deborah is grateful for her children’s continuing love and support since her diagnosis – Sammy’s regular trips from her home in Barnstaple to help out day-to-day, and Dale, from Sidmouth, doing the jobs she has been unable to do since the surgery, like putting out the recycling.
“I am just so thankful for the amazing support from my family and friends,” said Deborah.
She is also indebted to the ‘amazing’ Sidmouth Consolidated Charities for helping fund Bethany’s piano and singing lessons this term.
Money has been tight since Deborah’s diagnosis. Since her operation, and in preparation for a year-long course of precautionary chemotherapy, she has given up her cleaning business, Maid in Sidmouth, in case her treatment makes her too sick to work.
On top of cancer and chemo, naturally Deborah is worried about how she will afford to pay for her home, heating and food while she cannot work.
She is waiting to find out if she is entitled to claim any benefits during her year of treatment.
Deborah thanked Sidmouth Hospiscare for helping her apply for Personal Independent Payments (PIP), a benefit for people with long-term health conditions or disabilities.
She said: “There will probably be some loophole why I can’t get it, but that’s life. I am really trying to be positive.
“I have got a mortgage to pay, it’s £500 a month.
“I had to give up my business. I can’t go to work. I had to let all my customers down.
“I have tried to find them someone to take my place. I feel responsible for them. Some of them have said they want me back when I’m better.
“I feel such a fraud. I don’t feel ill, but I can’t work.”
With the ‘devasting blow’ of her mum’s death, Deborah is determined to make her ‘mummy’ proud on Saturday, when she heads to Fields of Sidmouth and has her hair shaved off ahead of her chemotherapy and Herceptin treatment.
She hopes people will go along, watch, and give some money to the Sidmouth Living With Cancer Support Group, who has been helping Deborah since her diagnosis.
“I don’t want my mum’s death to be in vain,” said Deborah. “This is going to be in her memory. She would be very proud of me.
“So please put your hand in your pocket. Even if it’s only £1 it all adds up. If thirty people put their hand in their pocket that’s £30.”
- Deborah’s head shave takes place by the mastectomy bras in the lingerie section of Fields of Sidmouth on Saturday, October 12, at 2pm.