When Carlene was 29, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma. After completing chemo and now free from cancer, she went on a quest to regrow her hair stronger and healthier than before. Carlene shares her story.
Carlene Todd is your average 33-year-old. She's bright, bubbly and oozes confidence. She has a great job, a close-knit family and a loyal circle of friends. Rewind four years, and things looked very different.
In May 2018, Carlene was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system. Carlene recalls being unwell for around 18 months. She had all the symptoms associated with lymphoma (persistent fatigue, fever, cough, itching skin, night sweats, unexplained weight loss) but was misdiagnosed repeatedly. She was told she was too young to have anything seriously wrong, she had a bad cold, and one doctor even proclaimed her pillow was to blame for the neck pain.
"I felt like I had the flu for weeks at a time, and then I would be fine for a few days before it started all over again. I saw six different doctors, but nobody was taking me seriously. It wasn't until I noticed a lump in my chest that I finally got diagnosed. I saw a new doctor who examined me, looked through my notes and referred me to see a specialist as she knew something wasn't right. Initially, I was told I had an asymmetrical skeleton, and that's what the lump was! After pushing for it to be taken seriously, I was sent for a scan."
My first thought was, 'I have cancer, OK, I'm going to die.'
A couple of days after Carlene's appointment with the specialist, she received a call from Matthew Stephenson's receptionist. Unaware that she had been referred to the breast surgeon, she was sceptical about taking the appointment (assuming it was being taken care of), but luckily saw him anyway.
"Matt did an ultrasound and immediately informed me that it was a tumour. Within a week, I was in the hospital for blood tests and a biopsy, which confirmed I had Hodgkin's Lymphoma.
"My first thought was, 'I have cancer, OK, I'm going to die.' My second thought was, 'Oh no, my sister, mum and dad', and I remember feeling really sad for them."
After a PET scan, Carlene learned the cancer hadn't spread and would be easily treated with chemotherapy. On 8th June 2018, she started treatment and would continue to have chemotherapy every other Friday for six months. "Straight after chemo, I'd have a week where I felt like shit, and then a week where I felt OK - I would go out and feel as normal as possible, and then do it all over again. The oncology ward was much nicer than I imagined, and the nurses were lovely, making it easier."
Having a large group of friends and a close family helped Carlene. "After researching plant-based diets, I decided to go vegan and look after my body as best I could. My friends and family tried to go vegan too; some lasted longer than others!" Carlene laughs about the memory of finding sausage roll packets in her mum's car, "she claims she has no idea how they got there, but the thought was there, and I really appreciate everyone for everything they did."
"My final chemo was scheduled for a week before my 30th birthday, so I decided to throw myself a party to celebrate. It also gave me something to concentrate on; every week, I would think about my party and how everyone would have to dress up as ABBA; after all, how could they say no to me!"
Halfway through, Carlene's 3-month scan revealed good news - the tumour had shrunk even more than the doctors had anticipated. At six months, the cancer was gone.
Three months into chemotherapy, Carlene had noticed her hair had thinned considerably. By four months, she had lost most of her hair. "Looking back, I should have just shaved it. My head was mostly bald, with patches of regrowth and the odd long strands." She laughs. "I used to clip the longer bits back. It felt like such a big part of me that I refused to get rid of it! I would wear wigs when I was going out, though.
"In November, when I had finished chemo, I was adamant I would look after my hair. It was growing thick, soft and curly, but I still wasn't happy when I looked in the mirror. Having been used to bleached blonde hair, I longed for my old locks back to feel like myself again."
After everything she has been through, Carlene is aware of what she puts in her body, only wanting to use natural products. "I was offered paracetamol for a stomach ache at work, but not wanting to use anything unnatural, a colleague offered to make me a rub from essential oils, which to my amazement, actually helped with my stomach. This got me thinking, could the essential oils help with my hair?
"After much research, I added a blend of essential oils to my regular coconut and castor oil mask. I apply the mixture twice a week, and I cannot believe the difference in my hair – it's so healthy, strong and thick. I still use the product religiously."
"I used to get stopped all the time, and people would ask what products I used. I tried to explain the formula to people and eventually started giving out bottles to friends and family. I soon realised it was costing me a small fortune!
"I returned from travelling at the beginning of lockdown, and with nothing else to do, I ran a poll on Instagram asking if anybody would be interested in purchasing the product - I was overwhelmed with messages.
"I went away and thought about what I would call the product. Malva is the Latin word for mauve. In colour psychology, mauve is described as bringing to mind springtime, blossom and growth. Malva was born. I sold out of the first 80 bottles within an hour. I then processed another 100 orders, and it progressed from there." To date, Carlene has sold over 1500 bottles of Malva.
Having only had her own results to go off, Carlene says it's been amazing to see how Malva has helped others. "I've had people with alopecia who have praised Malva for their hair regrowth, and it's helped men with hair thinning and women post-partum. It's incredible to see the results from so many different situations. I've had customers who use Malva for dry scalp conditions too, so it really has multiple benefits, even for those who aren't suffering from hair loss."
You can purchase Malva via www.malvabycarlene.com or on Instagram @malva_jsy