Changing conversations about cancer

Kaz Foncette shares why talking about cancer makes a big difference

By Luchia Robinson

Kaz Foncette
Credit: Luchia Robinson

Kaz Foncette is passionate about helping women like herself– women who are living with cancer.

Kaz is the founder of Wigs For Heroes, a charity that offers women on low incomes, (who are receiving cancer care at North Middlesex University Hospital), grants for wigs.

Kaz began Wigs For Heroes in June 2017, a month after being diagnosed with breast cancer aged 31.

This was after Kaz had had the chance to process what was happening to her. It was after she had been told that the cancer was aggressive and that she would need chemotherapy to treat it.

It was after the realisation that she would lose her hair and have to consider fertility treatment because of the likely damage the chemotherapy would cause to her reproductive system.

It was after Kaz had been told that a free wig to help assist with the change in her appearance and identity was not available to her.

Wigs for Heroes was established at a time when Kaz was trying to accept a new reflection; but also at a time when she was hopeful.

“I had a positive spring in my step because my prognosis looked good, my treatment plan looked good,” said Kaz.

“I was holding on to that hope that ‘I’m going to do this. I’m going to get better and I’m going to survive.’

“Once I had got that in my head, I really started believing it and I really wanted to just help other people get into that mindset as well.”

Accepting a new reflection
Credit: Kaz Foncette

The thought of losing her hair was a very big part of Kaz’ process of acceptance.

“All I knew was that I wasn’t angry anymore and this was purely collateral,” said Kaz.

“I was prepared for that swap, ‘my hair, for life’, and that’s how I started to see it.”

Preparing for the hair loss involved incorporating a range of wigs and a toolkit of accessories– scarves, earrings and sunglasses, into her dress sense.

This navigating of a whole new style was something that was consistent and familiar. It was also a way for Kaz to involve her family and friends– helping them to like- wise deal with the changes.

Kaz now uses her sense of style to engage with women online via Instagram; offering beauty recommendations and a blog of her day-to- day experience of living with cancer.

By using the hashtag #FrockingCancer, Kaz shows the world that she is empowered to take control– dressing up whenever she goes to the chemotherapy unit or has a doctor’s appointment.

“I call myself a ‘cancer thriver’ because I don’t know what’s going to happen to me long term,” said Kaz.

“I don’t know where I’m going to be in a year’s time–so why not just accept what’s happening to me– accept the fact that I’m having treatment to try to keep me alive, to try to cure me, and do it with a bit of fun on the way– because I’m not losing who I am again.”

Kaz is aiming to engage with, and support people in the local community who are going through cancer treatment.

“I have always strived to bring people together, and talk about cancer with others who understand what you’re going through, because as much as your family and friends are there for you, they will never fully understand the daily battles that you have within yourself.”

Kaz has a goal of establishing a cancer centre in Tottenham, her home town. A space that is both a retail unit and community hub, where people can meet, fundraise and talk openly.

“The conversation around cancer needs to change,” says Kaz. “When it comes to cancer, people are still uneducated about it,yet there are different treatments.

“A lot of the time, people associate cancer with death– it does happen obviously, but early detection is key, and if you start to normalise conversation, you start to normalise self-checks and detection.

“Changing the conversation needs to happen when you meet people straight away.

“A lot of people, when they do find out that you’ve got cancer, start to treat you a little bit differently or they will tell you about their aunt who had it and died– the things that you don’t want to hear –and it’s a constant reminder that you are faced with the potential fate of losing your life to it.

“I do tell people that it’s okay to say, ‘I don’t know what to say.’

Kaz added: “I want to show people that you can live your life in a way that you wouldn’t think. I just have to provide people with information and knowledge– removing the stereotypes.”