I turned 51 years old on 23rd May 2016. I have two children; an eighteen-year-old son and a 13 year-old daughter, and a partner who I have been with for five years. He has been amazing, as have my parents - the three most supportive people I could ever ask for.
Six weeks after starting a new job, my life was temporarily swiped away from me. Initially, I had a stabbing pain in my left breast and went to the doctors, where I was referred to Ninewells Hospital in Dundee. On 26th April 2016, I had a chat with the new doctor and, at this point, was still convinced it was nothing. I had a mammogram and an ultrasound which showed a large black mass.
After another chat with the doctor, who dropped the bombshell that he was 99% sure it was breast cancer, he told me I needed a biopsy. I did this immediately and was told to return in one week for confirmation. On 3rd May 2016, I found myself back at Ninewells Hospital - little did I know that I would be there a lot more in the future. It was confirmed that day that I had invasive ductal carcinoma and the tumour was 31mm. I was also HER2 positive and hormone positive.
My treatment would entail chemotherapy, a lumpectomy and radiotherapy. I would also have to have herceptin injections for a year, followed by hormone therapy (Tamoxifen) for 10 years. At this point, the two questions I asked were: “One - will this kill me?” and “Two - will I lose my hair?” The answers to these two questions were, “No, you will not die” and “Yes, you will lose your hair, but you can try the cold cap”. This was the first time I had heard of scalp cooling and I was so glad to learn there could possibly be some good news amongst this awful nightmare I was in.
To say I was bowled over was an understatement! So many things run through your mind at this moment and the next two weeks were a rollercoaster of emotions… Uncontrollable sobbing, crying alone at night in bed, being upset every minute of the day, telling my parents, telling my children, telling friends and work. The only way I can describe that two weeks is ‘a bereavement’. Once you come through this roller coast (it’s a given that you will), you come to a feeling of acceptance and you are ready to face the unknown.
On Monday 16th May 2016, I arrived at Ninewells Hospital Dundee at 8.00am. Before my treatment, I was met by Pam (every Paxman cold cap user needs a Pam!). She was fabulous and explained everything I needed to know about the system, how it has to be fitted and for how long. I would start with three different sessions of FEC (aptly named!) and would need to wear the cap for 30 minutes, during chemotherapy and for 90 minutes after that.
I had to have an MRI scan first, which in itself was hideous - one hour in what I can only describe as a very tight, claustrophobic space. After the MRI, I went straight to the Chemotherapy Department. I had been told to take paracetamol an hour before using the cold cap, which I did. The cap was fitted. It was cold and very tight, but I knew it had to be tight for the best results. I was determined to make sure it was touching every part of my head.
Everyone is different but I can honestly say, apart from the first 15 minutes being cold - not unbearable at all, the rest of it was fine. The cap was quite tight but I would have happily kept it on all day knowing it would work. All three of my cold cap experiences have been the same. It is what it is but I still have my hair and I still look like me, not someone who is ill.
I bought a wet brush for five pounds (best thing ever) and it doesn’t pull your hair even when wet. I also used Argan oil, massaging it into my scalp the night before washing my hair, then using Argan oil shampoo and a leave-in conditioner. Lots of people say “Don’t use a hair dryer, don’t use any products”, but I have done both… I put mousse on my hair and then dry it as I’ve always done. I used to wash my hair every two days but now I just wash it twice a week.
Since using the cold cap, I have lost little to no hair - probably no more than you usually shed. Around 14 days after each chemo, I did get a sensation like a ponytail had been tied too tight and tingling, but no hair fell out and I just took a paracetamol to ease it.
Now nearing the end of my chemo, I can honestly say the cold cap is worth the extra time. Let’s face it, what else do we have to do, sit at home and feel sorry for ourselves? As far as I’m concerned, an extra 90 minutes out of my life to save my hair is a drop in the ocean. As for my chemotherapy treatment, no one would ever know!
I am totally and utterly delighted with the results and would highly recommend the Paxman cold cap to everyone going through chemotherapy. It has made me still feel and look like me and for that I am truly thankful.