Hello. I am a 26-year-old female and had my cancer diagnosis last year. I have recently finished 6 months of chemo for Hodgkin’s lymphoma and am now in complete remission. At the start of my treatment I was offered the cold cap. I was told it was very painful and that most people don't stick it out.
When I was offered it I was at my lowest - I haven't wanted sympathy and I’ve been nothing but positive all through, but this was my low. I'd just had my biopsy, the symptoms of the lymphoma were taking it out of me and it hit me: I'm 26 with cancer. I had a few days of thinking “Should I use scalp cooling?’” but deep down my gut was telling me I had to.
A few days before my first chemo treatment I had a meeting with the nurses for more information. I’d built my strength up (a week of steroids worked wonders) and when I asked if not using the cap would make me lose my hair, they told me without a doubt that it would. This was enough for me; no matter how much it hurt I was doing it.
My hair has always been my 'thing' if you like. This was other people's opinion too as they always say, “When I think of you, I always think of your hair first”. My hair has always been long and very thick, other than when I was young and my dad took me the hairdressers and they cut it very short – my mum didn't forgive him for a long time! I went through a stage in my early teens where I used to straighten it constantly, how it survived that I don't know, but I tried to get it sleek and fine like all my friends’ hair.
I've experimented with colour; an awful bright red that I cringe when I see photographs of. Plum, almost black, highlights…you name it, I've had it, but I've always kept it long as I’ve gotten older. You grow into yourself and come to like things that are unique to you, so I've grown to love my hair. You might put a bit of weight on or have a bad skin day, but for me my hair has always been something I've been happy about in the last few years.
So I thought I'd 'brave' the cold cap. During my first treatment it was a great distraction. I hate, hate needles and I've had plenty now but still hate it. I was that nervous about the cold cap on my first chemo that it distracted me from the cannula. I had an amazing nurse who got me all set up and then… Well, put it this way: I drove the nurses daft for my four-hour session, asking them to check the cold cap was working. I hardly felt anything! The first few minutes were a little cold but after that, nothing. In the first few days after treatment I'd check my pillow as soon as I woke up to see if I'd lost any hair. I washed it the morning after chemo and hardly dared to brush it just in case.
The next chemo came along and, again, after the first few minutes I felt nothing. The chin-strap dug in a little bit but I managed to eat and talk so it was nothing bad! I had to sit and ‘defrost’ for 10 minutes after, but I can honestly say it did not bother me at all, I guess my thick hair was good insulation! I didn't sit wrapped up in blankets, I wasn't a shivering wreck – to sum it up, one of the nurses who set me up said one day “You don't even need it on as long as this, but as you like it I'll leave it on for you” and laughed. She found it a little ‘nuts’ that I found it quite relaxing! Interestingly, I've since had an icy non-alcoholic cocktail and had the worst brain freeze ever! So that’s proof that I don't have something weird going on where I don't feel cold!
The result? After 12 sessions of chemo totalling 48 hours, I can officially say I have had no hair loss! In fact, my hair has continued to grow. I grew a strange little fringe which I didn't cut, because how could I, when my hair was defying cancer? This was confirmed when my hairdresser did my hair for the first time since before chemo. She said it was new hair and, as she sectioned it, she couldn't believe how much new hair I had growing through. The nurses had suspected it, as by my eighth chemo I had to go up a cap size. I didn't lose eyebrows or eyelashes either, so maybe I have strong hair in general, but the hair on my head stayed thanks to the Paxman Cold Cap System and for that I cannot thank them enough.
The Paxman system has kept me as me. What some people don’t understand is that saving your hair is not about vanity. For me, it was about being a young person who was put in a situation that was out of my control. I would have given anything not to have cancer, but life happens and I got it. The cold cap stopped cancer taking my hair away from me; it let me look in the mirror and see me, go about my life as me. I didn’t have to walk into somewhere looking like the stereotype of a cancer victim. It allowed me to tell who I wanted to tell, as I still looked like me, and it meant cancer wouldn’t take anything away from me. I had the determination to fight (I’m stubborn and feisty anyway!), but I know I wouldn’t have handled this as well as I have without what the cold cap has given me.
Luckily I had hardly any side effects from treatment and my consultant has been amazed that my immune system didn't drop at all through treatment. I strongly believe it's down to the positivity I got from staying 'me'. I couldn't have done that without the cold cap.
It angers me how the cold cap is portrayed through the media, all you hear are the horror stories: 'horrific' and 'excruciating'. I can understand some people find this and that it doesn't work for everyone, but I would like to get the message across that it’s worth giving it a go!
I’ve come across ladies who have lost their hair, or others without cancer who have said “I couldn’t be bothered with that, hair grows back”. But it’s more than just saving your hair, it’s not letting cancer take anything away from you. This is where we need change, as I believe the cold cap is a huge step in our fight against cancer.
Yes, cancer is scary but it isn't always the terrible, awful scenario it's portrayed to be. I've learnt this first-hand. Treatment is doable, it's manageable, and we need to hear more of this instead of the scaremongering that is portrayed through the media. I have come out of treatment exactly as I wanted to, by being me. The cold cap has given me this.