On the 26th March 2018 primary school teacher Rachel Kenneally sadly passed away in her home surrounded by loving family and friends. Rachel was determined to raise awareness of scalp cooling but died before she had chance to. Now her family are sharing Rachel’s story to fulfil her last wish to help others. Rachel was an inspiration and natural ambassador, showing bravery and selflessness following her diagnosis and illness. On behalf of everyone at Paxman we wanted to pass on our heartfelt and sincere condolences to all Rachel’s family and thank them for bravely sharing Rachel’s story.
“I’m Rachel and I’m 26-year-old primary school teacher from Tipperary. I moved to Dubai September 2014 for a new adventure, to travel and to continue my career as a teacher. I first felt a lump in my breast in March 2017 and after a misdiagnosis in Dubai, I travelled home to Ireland where the lump was diagnosed as a malignant cancerous lump on 27th July 2017. My initial diagnosis stood as Stage 3 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. After abdominal CT and MRI scans were completed prior to starting chemotherapy, my diagnosis advanced. Then in August 2017, I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Metastatic Breast Cancer with secondaries in my liver. Over time, it also spread to my spine, lymph nodes and skin.
After review by my multi-disciplinary team, my final chemo plan was confirmed. I was due to face six 3-week cycles.Because of low white blood cells, one session of Paclitaxel was missed, totalling the amount of chemo sessions I received to seventeen. I was treated by the lovely doctors and nurses of The Bon Secours Hospital, Cork, Ireland and started my chemotherapy in August 2017 and finished it in January 2018.
Like a lot of people, I connected the word cancer to chemotherapy and chemotherapy to hair loss. In fact, my first question to my consultant was "will I lose my hair?". Devastated at the age of 25 by the thought of everything, I found myself googling the A-Z of cancer (which I recommend you avoid), with hair loss being one of the first topics. That's when I came across Paxman Scalp Cooling. Around the same time, I heard the news of a local woman also battling cancer who had managed to keep her hair thanks to the use of 'scalp freezing'. Soon after, my oncology nurse asked had I heard of it and told me that it would be an option in the hospital but that there was no guarantee that my hair would withstand the strength of the chemotherapy. My nurse also explained that many patients couldn't bear the cold feeling of the cap. My decision had been made from day one. I was going to give it a try, for sure. Remember, if you're not in, you can't win. I understood hair didn't mean as much to others, but for me, it did!
Like all treatments, I was curious to know just how challenging the cold cap would pose to be for me. My first day using cold caps was a little blurry as it was the same day my doctors confirmed my cancer had advanced to Stage 4, needless to say I was a little all over the place. What I do recall vividly was it was very cold. Prior to starting the treatment my nurse gave me half an Ativan to help me relax along with two Paracetamol. The feeling of the cold cap reminded me of getting wet in the rain and having a chill down my neck. Across my forehead and eyes, it felt like I had bad brain freeze but this lasted for only about 20 minutes. As time passed, I became used to the sensation and actually dozed off. I had been provided with some hospital blankets from the care staff which helped ease the cold feeling and make me feel a little more comfortable.
After using Paxman Scalp Cooling in week 1, I was better able to prepare moving forward. Soon, I was in a routine and in no way did I dread using the caps. So, what was on my 'Cold Cap Checklist'?
- Blankets; nothing beats your own soft cosy blankets. Hospitals will provide them, but they're not exactly cosy worthy.
- Spray Bottle and Conditioner; before placing the cap on your head you must wet your scalp and apply conditioner. As far as I know this is to protect your hair from the freezing temperatures and keep it from snapping when the hat is removed. Sometimes hospital sinks can be small and when you have a long mane of hair things can get messy. This is where my spray bottle came in handy. Simply filled with water to wet the roots and scalp. I only ever wet the scalp as after the first treatment I found the wet hair sitting on my shoulders didn't help with the chill I felt. So, my advice would be to only wet where needs to be wet.
- Wide Tooth Comb; this helps brush in the conditioner without snagging the hair.
- Clothing; throughout my use of cold cap treatments I ensured I would be warm enough. I always wore comfortable gym gear with a polo neck. I was dressed for winter regardless of the season. I also brought neck warmers and scarves which were comforting on days where I felt the chill that little bit more.
- Headband; some patients wore headbands/sweatband underneath the cap. I avoided this in fear it would affect the hairline.
- Mirror; bringing a pocket mirror allows you to check that you are happy with the positioning of the cap on your head. This is SO IMPORTANT. You need to be happy and feel confident.
When starting treatment, I was fitted for a size ‘large’ cold cap but as the weeks passed I was using a medium and often a small cap. Why is this? I'm not quite sure. My guess is that the caps can sometimes get a little stretched from patients. Whatever the reason, don't be afraid to ask your nurse to try another size if it doesn't feel tight enough. Also, if you feel like certain areas of the cap aren't tight enough on your head (an air bubble forming) ask your nurse for a clip. This will help push down the cap on all areas. If air bubbles form, you could be left with a bald patch in this area. I saw this happen to a cold cap companion of mine. So again, don't be afraid to ask!
For me taking an Ativan tablet helped a lot. I know many people may not want to follow this tip but it helped me relax and sleep through some of the treatment. I wore the cold cap for a total of 3hrs during each chemotherapy session. 30 mins prior to chemo, 90mins during and an additional 60 minutes after. I ensured I had taken the Ativan approximately half an hour prior to wearing the cold cap.
During use of cold caps, I only washed my hair once a week. I received my chemo every Monday, so I tried to leave washing my hair until at least Thursday. Dry shampoo helped cover up the 'greasy look' from all the conditioner until the day I washed my hair. I was recommended to use sulphur and paraben free products. I first tried Hemp Oil shampoo and conditioner which was the biggest waste of money. It left my hair feeling super oily with lots of residue on the scalp. My hairdresser then recommended Alfa Parf products which were my lifesavers. I used the Alfa Parf Moisture Shampoo and Treatment Mask with each wash.
At all costs I avoided using heated appliances on my hair. I never used a hairdryer or straightener because I did not want to apply heat to the root of my hair. I did however use a curling wand on the ends of my hair to give it some life when going out. I had my hairdresser cut a few inches off my hair. This helped give the hair a healthier volumed effect. Sleeping on silk pillow cases also helped minimal loss of hair.
I believe I kept approximately 90%, if not more, of my hair during treatment. Today, this hasn't changed. I know Paxman cold caps worked for me because I lost all other hair during chemotherapy and my eyelashes and eyebrows have continued to fall out to this date. I've continued to use Alfa Parf products on my hair which have helped it look healthier than ever and I limit washing my hair to twice a week now.
At no point throughout my treatment had I to wear a wig or hat for the purpose of hair loss. Prior to starting chemo I was encouraged by many people to "buy a wig and be prepared in case". I never did! My advice post treatment is pretty simple; Take care of your hair!Avoid chemicals and overuse of appliances. If your hair has managed to survive the nasty side effects of chemotherapy it deserves to be treated with all the care in the world. You never realize how much you are willing to do to keep your hair until someone convinces you that you won't.
Prior to starting chemotherapy, I swore that if Paxman Scalp Cooling could retain my hair I would preach about this treatment to anyone that would listen. That is what I have done, and I intend to continue doing so. I never expected to keep at least 90% of my hair and I am overjoyed to have had the opportunity to do so. I understand that losing your hair is 'only a side effect' of the whole cancer experience, but for me it was a massive aspect. At a young age of 25, my appearance mattered to me. If I was going to have a chance to save my hair amidst all that was happening in my life, I was going to jump at that chance and at least give it a go. For me, keeping my hair was a positive outcome in a negative situation. Having my hair helped me to look like myself and feel like myself. Luckily for me I wasn't very sick from the chemotherapy itself, therefore, I could go out, meet friends, and feel as though life was carrying on as normal as it could do in this situation.
Using Paxman Scalp Cooling is one of the best decisions I have made on my journey with cancer. It put me in the driving seat for once and allowed me to gain a little control over a disease that is usually completely out of the patient’s control. To those of you considering using Paxman Scalp Cooling, give it a go. Although you may be confused and upset right now about what to do and what not to do, I can assure you this is one move in my cancer journey I'll never regret.
To Paxman, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.”