I was diagnosed on 19th November 2012 at the age of 45. After noticing a dip in my breast I assumed it was probably due to my age or breastfeeding my son, so I wasn’t too concerned. After mentioning it to my doctor and him examining me, he thought it was a good idea to go for a mammogram.
I found out I had breast cancer, lobular carcinoma. They eventually found five very small tumours. The largest was 13mm and the smallest only 5mm. On December 19th 2012 I had a mastectomy and on 19th February 2013 I started FEC75 chemotherapy – six cycles followed by 15 blasts of radiotherapy at Kent & Canterbury Hospital.
We have an amazing support group in Deal. I heard about scalp cooling from one of the girls who had kept her hair a few months ahead of me. When I asked about it at the hospital I was told, “You have a 50-50 chance of it working” by my consultant, oncologist and breast care nurse. I didn’t really understand the science behind it so I interpreted this as my hair would either stay in or fall out.
At first, nobody seemed very enthusiastic about me trying scalp cooling. I was warned about the cold sensation and how it would lengthen my treatment a little, but I wanted to give it a go. Before my first chemo, I had my hair cut into a short bob. The pump needed to get to the right temperature but I was determined to try it! At that point, nobody explained the advantages of dampening my hair or putting conditioner on it before the treatment.
By the second chemo, I had lost some hair, but not much. The nurse told me I had bald patches and it wasn’t working, but I wanted to persevere. I had done a bit more research by now so I knew to dampen my hair. At this point I had my own chemo nurse called ‘Comfort’ – she was amazing and would prepare my hair for the cap.
I did lose some hair after every chemo, but I knew I needed to keep contact between the cap and my head close to improve the effectiveness. The chin-strap was a little uncomfortable so I called Paxman and they suggested a sanitary towel to help cushion it! I’d lost a boob, got fat because of steroids and had patchy hair – I wasn’t about to stick a panty pad on my face as well!
Overall I lost about 40-50% of my hair, but with my hats and headbands I could do comb overs to cover any patchy areas. The hairdressers at my lovely hair salon were great; they looked after me with a shampoo called Kérastase and trimmed my hair to keep it looking as good as possible. I was put in touch with a wig lady who told me that scalp cooling didn’t ever work, so I did buy a wig. £300 down the drain. I hated it and never put it on.
Generally, I didn’t find scalp cooling too traumatic. It was cold, but I’ve been colder. It did make treatment longer but I was happy with the results. It meant it was up to me who knew I was having treatment for cancer.
I would and have recommended scalp cooling. I think there needs to be more awareness to the patient and everyone involved in their care to spread the word about the use and benefits of the cold cap.