A Nelson woman who has just emerged from gruelling cancer treatment has been given a humiliating reminder of its effects by a staff member at a local bank.
Lynley Miller says it's time more people learned about hair loss as a devastating side-effect of cancer treatment, so that perhaps they might show a little more understanding.
Mrs Miller was in the queue at Westpac Bank's Richmond branch last week wearing a sports cap over a head scarf that she wears to disguise hair loss from chemotherapy treatment.
She was told by a bank staff member to turn her hat around.
Mrs Miller said she was taken aback by the request, which was the first and only time in six months she had been asked about her headdress, despite having entered many banks and shops.
The 59-year-old checkout supervisor at Pak 'n Save in Richmond said that rather than stand in the bank looking like a gangster with her hat turned around, she felt she had no choice other than to remove it, which left her feeling very vulnerable.
When she questioned the worker, Mrs Miller was referred to another staff member. She said each seemed indifferent to her plight, and just kept reiterating that it was policy.
"I don't want to point a finger at any one person, but I was just so taken aback.
"Because I'm coming out the other side of all this, and it was the first time I've actually been made to feel bad, it did upset me. It's been nine months, two operations and then chemotherapy, and I was just beginning to feel good again."
Mrs Miller said she went home and told her husband Rex, who was upset and eventually told their daughter Angela Miller, who yesterday the event on Facebook.
It prompted a deluge of enraged responses in support of Mrs Miller.
"Angela's only just found out about it. I'd kind of let it go."
Mrs Miller was diagnosed with breast cancer last year and has since endured surgery and treatment, of which a common side-effect is hair loss.
"It was a huge shock when it fell out. You learn to cope with hair loss by having to deal with it. You deal with it the best you can, including not wanting to make anyone feel uncomfortable."
Working in the public eye she was aware some people stared.
"I do have a wig, but it drives me mad wearing it all day. One day I just turned up at work wearing my scarf and hat, and said, ‘this is me', and my work accepted it."
She felt it was more important to remind women of the need to be vigilant with any changes in their health that worried them. A mammogram had failed to detect her breast cancer.
"I just knew there were changes that weren't normal. I knew something was wrong."
Mrs Miller, who was reluctant to talk about the experience with the bank, said most people had treated her with courtesy and compassion, but the indifference of the staff in the bank was unacceptable. The most she was seeking was an apology.
Angela Miller said since her mother was diagnosed she had been so strong, but the experience was the first time throughout the ordeal her mother had been brought to tears.
"She has continued working when she could - in a job that is very much in the public eye.
"Never in this whole time has she been reduced to tears by a lack of human empathy until this incident."
She understood banks had policies about wearing helmets, but wondered why the staff member did not have the decency to let it go.
"My mother was humiliated and she shouldn't have had to deal with that on top of everything else," Angela Miller said.
Westpac spokesman Chris Mirams said there was no intention to make Mrs Miller feel uncomfortable in any way and the bank was very sorry.
"Like all banks, as part of security processes, we do on occasion request customers wearing certain items like hats, beanies and caps to remove them for identification purposes. This is what happened with Mrs Miller. We now understand why this has caused her distress and reiterate our apologies," Mr Mirams said.
- The Nelson Mail