“CANCER didn't bring me to my knees, it brought me to my feet” – Hollywood star Michael Douglas isn’t the only one to put a positive spin on the big C. Great grandmother Kay Gunner, from Hadleigh, has found a new lease of life since being told she had breast cancer. She spoke to EMMA PALMER.


CANCER is many things to many people. For Kay Gunner it has meant pain, tears, but also plenty of laughs.

Best of all, it’s led to the realisation that she can use her sewing skills to cheer up other women battling the disease.

Her family genuinely believe Kay looks better than in her pre-cancer days and say she has laughed more over the past six months than she has for a long while.

That’s not to say she is trivialising cancer – far from it. It’s just that Kay, 65, found a way to chuckle her way through the bad days and the embarrassing times, since she was told she had breast cancer just before Christmas.

Now she’s on a mission to do the same for others.

Kay, who lives in Hadleigh with husband Colin, said: “I’ve had times when I couldn’t get out of bed. I’m lying there feeling like nothing on Earth.

“I’m aware that many people out there don’t have the support that I do and also are in a worse way. I’m lucky.

“I suppose I just want to get across the message that cancer doesn’t have to be as scary as you imagine. Try to see the humorous side of things as much as you can and, above all, find something that gets through the day and focus on that.”

For Kay, that something was making headscarves/turbans. She knew she was ultimately going to lose her shoulder-length hair due to chemotherapy and with her lifelong dressmaking skills, she decided she might as well be ready for her “bald phase”.

When she did start wearing her bright and glamorous headwear creations, she found she’d get so many compliments she’d try to start a business from it.

And that she has. With the help of her daughter Tracy, www.turbanboutique.co.uk was born.

Kay, who was taught how to sew at an early age thanks to her milliner aunt, would work on her scarves whenever she could, sitting at her sewing machine at home and spending hours trying to get each one just perfect.

On days that Kay was too weak to even thread a needle, Tracy would finish them.

Kay said: “It became something to focus on every day – a sort of therapy to get me through cancer.”

Kay was diagnosed after a chance underwear purchase made her realise all was not well. “I had bought a new bra and one day I was standing there thinking ‘this is really digging into me’,” she said.

“It just didn’t feel right. Then I felt a lump on my breast. “I was straight on the phone to my GP and got an appointment the next day.”

Kay had to endure six rounds of chemotherapy at Southend Hospital. She had her last dose of chemo this week and will have a short while to recover before she starts radiotherapy.

But there’s no pity party going on at Kay’s beautiful bungalow, where a giant “L A U G H” sign greets you as soon as you enter. She has now become even more passionate about making her scarves and turbans for other women going through cancer and who, like Kay, just can’t get to grips with wearing a wig.

“I tried a wig and I had a really realistic-looking one, but the problem was I was terrified the blooming thing was going to fly off at any moment,” laughed Kay.

Kay vividly remembers the day she began losing her hair – halfway through a shopping trip in Basildon. She said: “We were in Primark and I noticed clumps of hair falling onto my shoulder. I was like ‘what the hell’s that?’ and then I realised – and when I say clumps, I mean clumps! “It was so embarrassing and I was upset, but I had to laugh, otherwise I’d have cried.

“I thought, ‘OK, I can’t have this anymore, so I decided to shave what was left off. “I gave the clippers to my husband and he did it for me – but he hashed it up a bit, bless him. I had to get my daughter round to finish it off.

“My husband doesn’t show his feelings. He’s a very supporting, loving man, but he tried to keep it together, otherwise I think he would have gone to pieces. I know shaving my hair was really hard for him.

“When I told him I had cancer, he didn’t do the whole ‘poor you’ thing, he came over and patted me on the head and said ‘don’t worry, you’re going to be OK!’.

Kay’s turbans are already becoming much sought out by women going through chemo, especially as at £15.50 to £18.50 a pop they cost a fraction of the price of a wig.

They are fashioned from soft stretchy jersey materials, have a soft lining which gives structure and comfort without causing irritation, and are made in many different styles.

“We didn’t want something that looked like a swimming cap or a shower cap,” she said. “For every one we sell, we give £1.50 to Cancer Research. That’s my way of giving something back.”

Along with Colin, Tracy and Kay’s niece Carol have been a constant support to her over the past six months. Tracy, 48, who also lives in Hadleigh, says: “All mum wants now is for other women to know these turbans exist. This is very important to her, as to look nice made a vast difference to how she felt as a woman.”

Kay, who was also diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis when she was 40 but has fortunately managed to keep fit and active, added: “Losing your hair is probably one of the worst things you can go through as a woman.

“I want to change that for as many women as I can – and the fact we’ve had so many laughs along the way is a bonus.”