When my best friend was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer, you can only imagine her stunned and fearful reaction. It was devastating, to say the least, and only 3 months after losing her mother.
Once she began to come to grips with the diagnosis and navigate the treatment options, there was one thing that rang louder than any other: “I don’t want to lose my hair!”
The impact of losing a lifelong head of locks just seems to make the disease even a few measures worse. Imagine seeing yourself in the mirror looking even less like yourself than before the treatment.
It is symbolic to say the least.
Some men might understand this, who have undergone the slow thinning that comes with male pattern baldness. But with women it’s different, even notwithstanding the disease itself and harsh treatment.
Men do not lose their maleness when they go bald. Some even look rather handsome and more virile once they learn to own it and regain their confidence.
Women on the other hand most certainly feel the loss of some portion of their femininity. And should they be dealing with mastectomy, this is just salt in the wound.
FDA Approved: a Decades Old European Treatment
I had never heard of the cooling cap before my friend found it, and neither had she.
This is probably because FDA has only just recently approved the use of these caps in the US.
Suddenly hopeful that she could at least avoid this one painful aspect of her diagnosis, she felt she could much better face her treatment and recovery with her hair intact.
This treatment has worked in over 66% of women in Europe who have used it to maintain at least half their hair for decades now. And those who know them said that they barely notice the thinning.
The cooling caps are worn over the scalp, frozen to around thirty degrees below zero Celsius.
The belief is that this either freezes the capillaries so that the dangerous chemo drugs do not reach the hair follicles, or that the follicles are just frozen enough not to react to it.
This CBS news video provides a wonderful story and overview.
It is not cheap, costing thousands of dollars, but there is a Hair to Stay non-profit organization helping women who cannot afford it.
The cap we are using is the one that’s been around the longest, one of those featured in the CBS video, the Penguin Cold Cap.
It is not the simplest process to follow. Dry ice must be used, caps rotated through and changed every 20 to 30 minutes before, during and 5 hours AFTER the chemo treatment.
But without even the Carolina University Cancer Hospital having incorporated the Dignicap (another cold cap, also highlighted in the CBS video), it was the best choice available to us at this time. Another cap is available,
But don’t trust your hair to copy cat products that will be joining the marketplace to take advantage of an emotional sale. These are, on Amazon and other retail outlets without a track record for this purpose. I have read some disappointing reviews on these products!!
Beginning a Healing Journey
Her first day of chemo was yesterday, and it was a long day, but she was most worried about those first chilly moments.
The first 8 minutes are apparently the worst, as the cold seems unbearable, until the skin becomes numb to it. But as she had been prescribed something to calm her nerves, and I continued to distract her with some photos and conversation, so that she barely noticed those first minutes.
Support is paramount. She could not have done this herself.
There were two of us rotating the caps from under the dry ice in the cooler and helping to put the caps on tightly over her scalp, tracking the time until we should be preparing the next one.
All this went on during and around the constant visits from the nurses, practitioners, pharmacists and nutritionists who needed her attention.
But now that we have done it, and the first day behind us, one of us will easily be able to handle it for her from now through the remainder of her treatment.
Here she is on her first day of chemo, a courageous and wonderful soul! She endured the entire day in good cheer.
She has also been taking silica supplements, recommended by the Penguin Cold Cap support people, also discussed in this post.
And she knows to be eating a plant based diet, getting good fats, carbs and protein. She has been juicing weeks in advance to bolster her immune system and is taking vitamin D and Omega fatty acids.
Also most importantly, she is an eternally positive person, and has every belief that she’ll make a full recovery, as do I. At she is fully focused now on recovery, and not worried about losing her hair.
I will be keeping you posted on her progress in an email series I’m still working on, so come back soon. I plan to have a picture with her and a full head of hair after the chemo is finished!
By the way, this isn’t for women only, check out this first man to run an entire Iron Man marathon WHILE doing his chemo treatments for prostate cancer, and wearing the Penguin cold cap.
A HUGE THANK YOU in advance for SHARING this information with everyone you know, so that it may reach someone who needs it and can keep their hair!
UPDATE! March 19, 2017:
After 3 of the first 4 chemotherapy treatments, of the harshest of the drugs she’ll be exposed to (including what is called ‘the red devil’), she’s not lost ANY hair! She is thrilled about that to say the least, but mostly as her treatments appear to be working and after the first 2 treatments they noted shrinkage in her tumor!
Here we are with three down!