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Bury St Edmunds family lose their locks for charity as mum shields ahead of breast cancer surgery




A Bury St Edmunds teenager whose mum was diagnosed with breast cancer is joining a mammoth family effort to shave their hair to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support.

Ben Lowis was due to ‘Brave the Shave’ for the cancer charity today after being inspired by a summer fund-raising contest waged by dad Ed, 45 and brother Nathaniel, 19 – also for Macmillan.

The 16-year-old has managed to avoid the barbers since last August but after encouragement from friends at school, he decided to cut his losses and go bald in solidarity with mum Rachel, 46, who had her head shaved before she underwent chemotherapy treatment.

Ben, Rachel and Nathaniel Lowis
Ben, Rachel and Nathaniel Lowis

His dad and brother went head-to-head this summer to raise £4,082 for Macmillan’s specialist cancer support services to thank them for the one-to-one care and support Rachel received from the West Suffolk Hospital Macmillan Centre.

Ben looks set to push their total past the £5,000 mark and the family’s current total of £4,942 is almost equivalent to funding a Macmillan nurse for a month.

Adie’s Barbers, which has been trimming the Lowis boys’ hair for 18 years, agreed to reopen specially after closing time to help Ed and Nathaniel complete their challenge – and will now reprise its role for Ben’s charity shave.

Nathaniel, Rachel and Ed Lowis
Nathaniel, Rachel and Ed Lowis

Rachel received her diagnosis at the height of the pandemic in April, after finding a lump in her breast.

Ed, who teaches history at Mildenhall College Academy, says: "From start to finish, everyone has been fantastic at West Suffolk Hospital.

"Not only have all appointments been kept, but Rachel has positively flown through the system.

"The Macmillan Centre has offered guidance, support, practical advice and counselling.

Rachel receives her chemotherapy treatment
Rachel receives her chemotherapy treatment

"It is a reassuring and calm oasis in the added stress of Covid-19, where the atmosphere is always positive.

"They never make you feel stupid when you ask random questions or need help with what may seem like inconsequential matters.

"They have constantly helped and reassured, especially when Rach had issues with her PICC line (a catheter used to give someone chemotherapy treatment or other medicines) and a sudden, severe allergic reaction to plasters.”

After visiting the Macmillan Centre to buy a scarf and collect some information leaflets, Rachel was assigned to J-P Holt, a Macmillan navigator who helped her access more tailored support for her practical and emotional needs.

As coronavirus cases go up and you hear about increasing pressure on hospitals, you can’t help worrying that disruption to cancer care might follow - Rachel Lowis

With her parents wary of making the journey from South Wales and the additional pressure of being stuck indoors, it was a relief to discover she was eligible for free counselling sessions.

Rachel said: "J-P knew it would be a few weeks until the counsellor could see me, so he called me once a week to see how I was getting on.

"It felt like he was going above and beyond what was expected of him by telling me where I was in the queue for the counsellor and asking me how I was doing.

"He also took an interest in how my family were as well."

Fund-raising has been a welcome diversion for the Lowis family, who have been largely confined to their house since Rachel received her diagnosis.

With six rounds of chemotherapy on the cards, which she has now completed, Rachel was told she would have to shield as the treatment would weaken her immune system and make her more vulnerable to Covid-19.

However, she only managed to obtain an official shielding letter in mid-July, making it difficult to obtain priority shopping slots and leaving the family reliant on the kindness of colleagues, and friends at Westgate Chapel.

Rachel said: "After the diagnosis the breast team told me neither myself nor Ed could go to work as I had to be safeguarded.

"The oncologist said if we had a second bathroom we’d have some more freedom, but as we had to share, it meant the whole family had to stay in.

"The hardest thing was that my parents would normally drop everything and come to help, but they were worried about travelling and staying in a B & B."

Rachel is shielding once again ahead of her mastectomy operation at the end of October but continues to take daily exercise – as prescribed by her doctors - to help put her body in a stronger position to withstand and recover from her surgery.

She will have to shield for a further fortnight following her surgery.

She will be in hospital for five days after the operation, which will also see surgeons reconstruct her right breast, but due to coronavirus restrictions will not be allowed to have friends or relatives visit her on the ward where she recuperates.

She said: “Getting through those five days after surgery without the company or touch of the most important people in my life feels impossibly hard right now, but sadly that’s the reality for cancer patients during this pandemic.

"And the worry won’t stop once I’m out of that ward and recovering my strength back home.

"I’ll soon be starting another six-month programme of treatment to keep the cancer at bay, but as coronavirus cases go up and you hear about increasing pressure on hospitals, you can’t help worrying that disruption to cancer care might follow."

As the NHS braces for an influx of demand over the winter and works to improve the capacity of cancer services, Macmillan is campaigning to ensure cancer doesn’t become the forgotten ‘C’ of a pandemic that is already hitting cancer patients hard practically, emotionally and financially.

Nathaniel said: “The main reason I did this - apart from really needing a haircut - is because of my mum.

"She was diagnosed with breast cancer and has been really well supported by Macmillan, which is why I am supporting them."

To donate to Ben Lowis’ fundraiser, visit bravetheshave.macmillan.org.uk/shavers/ben-lowis

The Macmillan Cancer Support Centre at West Suffolk Hospital is open 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

Contact the team by calling 01284 713023 or emailing cancer.infocentre@wsh.nhs.uk

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