As a hairdresser of 16 years, Lauren Mackellar’s identity was wrapped up in everything hair care.
The 38-year-old, from Melbourne, was a stylist to the stars and working on her own line of hair products towards the end of 2021 when everything came crashing down.
An ‘excruciating’ migraine brought her to the emergency department where doctors found a fist-sized aggressive tumour in Lauren’s brain and she was rushed to surgery in the matter of hours to have it removed.
Surgery removed the entire tumour, but Lauren had to go through 18 months of intense radiotherapy and chemotherapy which killed all her follicles.
She was faced living the rest of her life with no hair whatsoever.
With a half-baked line of haircare products under her belt, Lauren started using her own formulated tonic in the hopes her hair would grow back in any way. Six weeks after going bald, Lauren started to see progress.
Speaking with FEMAIL, Lauren said she is now completely cancer-free, and was able to miraculously grow a full head of hair thanks to the miracle tonic she sells under her own brand Robe Haircare which she launched in June this year.
Lauren Mackellar (pictured) was working as a hairdresser and formulating her own line of haircare products before she was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive brain cancer
The 38-year-old had intensive radiotherapy which killed all her follicles and doctors said it would never grow again but she created a unique formula that saw her gain her locks back
With her boyfriend Tom out of town, Lauren was sitting in a doctor’s office by herself when she received the terrifying news she had brain cancer.
‘I asked the doctor, he was so lovely, I asked him, “can you hold my hand?” because I was on my own,’ Lauren recalled.
‘He held my hand and I said, “am I going to die?”. He said no but I didn’t believe him.’
Lauren had a rare and unpredictable tumour the size of her fist in her brain behind her right ear that had been developing for years.
‘It was really hard to digest, that’s for sure. My whole life really changed in that moment. I remember everything about it, I remember his shoes and everything.’
It wasn’t the news Lauren was expecting to receive when she went to the emergency room to get pain medication for a bad migraine.
Lauren had been suffering from migraines since she was a teenager and developed a number of pain-coping strategies over the years.
Lauren went to the emergency room with a ‘debilitating’ migraine however scans showed she had a fist-sized tumour in her brain and she was rushed to surgery just hours later
However, over a span of three weeks, Lauren suffered migraine so ‘debilitating’ nothing she tried would curb the pain.
‘It got to the point where I was in tears. One morning when I woke up I was in excruciating pain and all of my tried-and-tested remedies that I’d used in the past, nothing was helping,’ she said.
The hairdresser was also starting to notice ‘blind spots’ in her vision and had pain in her wrist which she then chalked down to a work-induced carpal tunnel injury.
But these were all symptoms of the cancer growing in her brain that had developed to a point doctors were astounded Lauren was functioning almost as normal.
‘They were all just so amazed I was cognitive,’ she said.
‘They were like, ‘How are you still walking and talking? It’s amazing you haven’t had seizures or gone unconscious.’
Just 30 hours after visiting the emergency room and an anxious overnight stay in the hospital, Lauren was wheeled into surgery to remove the cancer.
‘(The neurosurgeon) made arrangements to move his schedule around so that I could be the next one operated on which made me feel safe and secure. They’re taking action and I know I’m in the safest place,’ she said.
The surgery removed the entire tumour but it was found to be cancerous so Lauren went through weeks of radiation therapy which killed her hair follicles leaving her bald
‘But it also made me realise, I’ve had this tumour for such a long time – which they suggested I did because of how big it was – why is it so urgent that we get rid of it right now? He said, ‘Because if you go unconscious, you won’t wake up’.’
The surgery went without a hitch and doctors were able to remove the entire tumour but it was found to be cancerous.
‘It was a pretty aggressive cancer. It was a very rare tumour that’s very unpredictable so I had to get cancer treatment,’ Lauren explained.
She had less than a month to recover from surgery before starting daily intensive radiotherapy which caused all her hair fall out in just three weeks.
‘When I finished they said the intensity of my particular treatment, my follicles were too damaged and it’s unlikely my hair will ever grow back or if it will it might be years down the track,’ she said.
‘At that point I felt so vulnerable. The scar was pretty shocking, it was so big… Hair to me was the most important thing in my life, I had built a career around it.’
This wasn’t Lauren’s first time experiencing hair loss. Through her twenties, her hair started thinning due to stress.
From her 16 years as a hairdresser Lauren worked with experts in the industry as well as celebrity clients including Australian actress and model Olympia Valance (right)
‘When you’re a 20-year-old girl and your job involved standing in front of a mirror, it can be pretty confronting and annoying,’ she said.
‘All I wanted was to feel like I had what the standard of beauty at the time was telling me was beautiful which was always thick luscious hair.’
From her 16 years as a hairdresser Lauren worked with experts in the industry as well as celebrity clients including Australian actress and model Olympia Valance.
Through those years she spoke with countless women in her chair, both in Australia and Los Angeles and found her experience was not uncommon.
‘I would constantly see and hear their frustrations about their hair. Things like hair loss, thinning, textural changes that would happen during menopause or perimenopause. Postpartum hair loss was a huge one too,’ she said.
‘I saw how much it affected their mindset. I’ve always been someone who really likes to help in any way and share as much of my knowledge as I can to help them feel better about themselves.’
Lauren struggled to find effective haircare products that would treat her and her clients’ hair issues in the long term so started doing her own research.
She began looking into what was already on the market as well as alternative medicines and ingredients.
Lauren was no stranger to hair loss having experienced it mildly in her twenties due to stress. Before her diagnosis she had started developing a tonic to encourage hair growth
‘I loved learning about these incredible health ideas that have been used for centuries. It taught me a lot about all these incredible ingredients that were promoting hair health and hair growth,’ she said.
‘I started buying these ingredients and herbs. At the time they were only available in a loose-leaf, or a capsule and I’d make them into teas. I started taking them and noticed that my hair improved.’
With her new-found knowledge, Lauren enlisted the help of a chemist to formulate her own products she could use and recommend to her clients.
‘I learned that, yes, ingesting is really helpful but something that you can put on the hair that has those ingredients that would go straight to the source of the issues, the results would be even more powerful,’ she said.
‘I was also really adamant that there were no nasties in there. No silicones, no parabens, no SLSs, – all those things that a lot of products use because they offer that cosmetic look but they can actually damage the hair in the long term’.
The idea of her own haircare line was ‘bubbling away’ as Lauren tested and trialed different formulas on and off before her diagnosis.
After coming to terms with potentially never having hair ever again, she started using a tonic she had created in hopes it could make a difference.
‘I had the tonic already sitting there that I had been trialing when I had hair. While I had been using that my hair had been in the best condition it had ever been in,’ Lauren said.
‘I knew that it worked but I knew it obviously had its work cut out with my situation.’
‘I began using (the tonic). I was rubbing that onto literally a bald head, there was nothing there but I kept it up and six weeks later, I noticed tiny little hairs sprouting up,’ she recalled
She was facing a year of chemotherapy treatments which could hinder her hair grown even further however she persisted.
‘I began using (the tonic) and even though I was rubbing that onto literally a bald head, there was nothing there. I just kept it up and it was only about six weeks later, I noticed tiny little hairs sprouting up,’ she recalled.
‘When I started seeing little sprouts of my hair, I was like, okay, this is amazing even if I just have short hair for the rest of my life or even if it’s patchy, I’ll have something.’
Her hair growth wasn’t just a sign of gaining her locks back but of her body coming out of adversity.
‘I went through so much for so long to feel like first of all my identity is coming back and secondly it’s a sign that my body is working. It was big celebrations.’
Despite the chemo, Lauren’s hair kept growing and when she finished the treatment in June this year she had dark, wavy hair all over her head almost down to her shoulders.
Lauren’s vision, however, would not recover. What started as blind spots is now a severe vision impairment that has halted Lauren’s work as a hairdresser.
‘I’ve lost a fair majority of my vision. The surgeon warned me that it was likely to be that way. He told me that was a cause of the tumour swelling and compressing the optical nerve,’ she said.
‘I had been told that it would be permanent but it’s okay, I can still see but I won’t be able to do hair really anymore.’
‘It’s actually been kind of a blessing in a way because I can pour all of my knowledge and experience into Robe.’
Knowing her products worked, she launched Robe Haircare in July, just a month after finishing chemo and being declared cancer-free.
‘It was nice to finish one chapter and start another on,’ she said.
‘I created a product that will be able to help so many people, no matter what they’re going through with their hair but now I really can attest to it and say hand-on-heart they really work and made me feel so much better about myself.’
It was dream come true to finally provide something to help all those clients whose confidence had been dashed by issues with their hair.
Even after getting the news of her brain tumour and before surgery, Robe was on Lauren’s mind.
Robe now sells The Tonic for $69.99 which helped Lauren get her hair back and contains natural ingredients which all promote and encourage growth and nourishment
Also available from Robe are the lengthening, thickening and youthful shampoos and conditioners as well as a hair fragrance, leave-in treatment, and a clean and finish formula
‘I thought I need to make calls and make sure it goes ahead no matter what because I’ve put so much heart and soul into this and I believe in this product so much that it would be such a shame if people didn’t receive it,’ she said.
‘I called my friend and said I don’t know what’s going to happen but this is the situation and you need to promise me that you help Tom bring it together if I’m not around.’
Robe now sells The Tonic for $69.99 which helped Lauren get her hair back and contains natural ingredients including darkenyl, akosky azuki and quandong extract which all promote and encourage growth and nourishment.
The versatile scalp-treating formula can be sprayed onto the scalp in areas of concern on clean hair two to three times a week for best results.
Also available from Robe are the lengthening, thickening and youthful shampoos and conditioners as well as a hair fragrance, leave-in treatment, three-in-one clean and finish and a wide-tooth comb.