After waiting on pins and needles for several days, the biopsy results did not return in my favor. I was simply stunned at what Dr. Ann was telling me. In a nutshell, that is how my journey started. I realize my journey is different than the other people’s.
Standing in my dining room the first Friday of November, I had no idea what my next step would or should be. Thankfully, Dr. Ann had already gathered information on the surgeon and the oncologist that I would soon trust with my life. On my birthday in December, I had my surgery. The next step in my treatment plan was radiation followed by 12 weekly cycles of chemo. Currently I have an infusion once every three weeks through January and I take a chemo pill daily.
During my initial visit with Dr. Lori, she mentioned the Paxman cold cap treatment. My husband and I were intrigued but we had other things to focus on first. However, if there was a way for me to be in control of something during treatment, I wanted to check it out. Dr. Lori said that she recommends it to most of her patients.
In my opinion, one of the most challenging things for women when faced with chemo is the high possibility of hair loss. I’ve seen it impact one of my closest girlfriends. Let’s be honest, it is gut wrenching. “Get a wig!” “Wear some cute scarfs and hats!” All well-meaning sentiments, for sure. But why wear a wig when I could keep my own hair?
For me, I wanted to be in public and not have strangers suspect I was in the middle of a health battle. Not that I was ashamed of what I was going through. Was it vanity that made me want to keep my hair? Maybe, but I don’t think so. Studies repeatedly show the negative emotional impact chemo induced hair loss has on all patients, not just women. I just wanted something to be as normal as possible. I didn’t want to wait for years for my hair to grow back out. I didn’t want to catch a glimpse of my baldness in a mirror or window reflection. I didn’t want to look at pictures years down the road and be reminded. I wanted to go about my day and not have people wonder how they should interact with me. Making the choice to keep as much hair as possible shouldn't be treated like it is a privilege or a luxury.
Taking a couple of Tylenol right before I got started helped with the headache. It is like an ice cream headache without the ice cream! Wrapping up in blankets and drinking hot coffee also helped deal with the cold. After the first 20 minutes or so, things got much more comfortable, or maybe ‘tolerable’ is the right word.
One of the tricks I did was to use a shower cap every day. Because I'm a hot shower type of gal and didn’t want to do any more damage to my hair than what the chemo was doing, I waited until the end of the shower to tend to my hair. I gently pulled my hair back and tucked it under the shower cap at the nape of my neck before I got in the shower. I did not pile it on top of my head or pull it back tight. Just enough to get the cap on. I turned the hot water down to a cooler temperature, took off the cap and either did a rinse or shampoo. I think that helped. Before I got out of the shower I gently squeezed the excess water out and patted my hair dry. I then put the shower cap back on. That kept the water from running all over as I tried to dry off and get dressed. Once I was dressed I gently towel dried my hair again. Not once did I use a hair dryer or styling tool of any kind. My shampoo days were Tuesday (treatment day) and Saturday.
I discovered that if I used a wide tooth comb to distribute the conditioner in my hair, I didn’t lose as much hair. If I used my fingers to work it through, I would wind up pulling out a handful of hair regardless of how gentle I tried to be. Since I shampooed only twice a week, I used a good salon-quality deep conditioner on those days. On the days I did not shampoo, I did a gentle rinse. On rinse only days, I put a dime size amount of conditioner on the ends (only) of my hair. I used the wide tooth comb to run it through the ends of my hair. This helped my hair from drying out so much.
I slept in a beanie. I'm one that tends to pull my hair back in a ponytail to keep it off my face at night or I tug on it. I would tuck my hair back behind my ears and I didn’t have the tendency to pull on it during the night because it was off my face. I did wear beanies most of the time because my hair wasn’t as fresh or styled as I would have liked.
There are other factors like how to care for your hair that play a role in the success of this therapy. Special shampoo, no styling tools, no braiding, pulling back in a bun or ponytail and limiting the washing frequency are all key parts in the overall picture.
On one of the blogs I came across, many women recommend using dry shampoo. I did not. For one thing, it adds more product to your hair. Then it is difficult to wash or rinse it out. I found that the less you put on your hair or do to your hair, the better. Being gentle is the name of the game!
I did notice that the longer I was on chemo, the more hair I lost each week. It stands to reason because the chemo was getting more chances to get at my head. In the end, I lost 5% - 10% of my hair. I had some thinning on the sides and a couple of patches along the hairline. Not bad and not enough to notice. I never felt the need to wear a wig.
During my treatment and the first six weeks following treatment, I continued to get a haircut on my normal schedule. My stylist was very gentle with my hair. She has been very surprised to see how much hair I actually have.
Even today I have continued with using the shower cap and washing my hair at the end of my shower. I also still use the wide tooth comb to distribute conditioner in my hair while in the shower. Per the recommendation of my stylist I now use Nioxin shampoo and conditioner. In the less than 12 weeks after completing my initial phase, I have a lot of new hair growth.
If you are a considering using the cold cap, I encourage you to go for it. I’m so thankful that Dr. Lori told me about it and that I gave it a try. It was completely worth all of the strict protocol and ice cream headaches! Paxman made this very difficult journey better for me.