Cancer keeps stealing my friends, and I can’t do anything to stop it.
What I can do is prevent cancer from stealing women’s hair. Preserving hair also preserves privacy and dignity. Pretty heady stuff, pardon the pun. This is the closest I will ever come to having a super power, and I’ll take it! I’m a hair-saving superhero who freezes scalps with Crylon gel to protect otherwise defenseless hair follicles from the ravages of chemotherapeutic drugs. “Chemo, do your job in the body, but back away from that head of hair!” Okay, maybe I need a better mantra.
Using Penguin Cold Caps (the most effective scalp cooling method available, in my opinion) is time-consuming and labor intensive. There are many haircare restrictions, and the results aren’t guaranteed. And for most people it’s costly and isn’t currently reimbursed by insurance. Hair loss or “shedding” occurs to varying degrees although it tends to happen uniformly throughout the head instead of producing bald spots. Patients notice; others rarely do. Hair also grows back faster with cold cap usage. Even though it can’t be dyed, blown dry, straight-ironed, ponytailed or even washed thoroughly during treatment, it will be there.
But why bother? Why not buy a wig? Why withstand the time, expense, and (depending on individual pain thresholds) discomfort of cold caps when the hair will eventually grow back anyway? Sometimes vanity plays a part. But more often than not women, and occasionally men, just want to hold onto some semblance of normalcy while their lives are spinning out of control. Or women don't want their kids to think mommy's dying. Or they don't want to walk down the street as a poster child for breast, ovarian or whatever cancer. Or they don't want to be treated differently at work. Or they don’t want to be the honoree of a never-ending pity party. And by the way, even the highest quality wig comes off at night.
Keeping one’s own hair has another wonderful byproduct. It seems to hasten and ease the recovery process. Simply put, people feel well when they look well.
It’s important to remember that the vast majority of patients keep much more hair than they lose. Again, the results can’t be predicted or guaranteed, but women usually save 80% or more with many chemo drugs. (Adriamycin is an exception around the 50% mark.) Realistically, patients shouldn’t expect to have a full, beautiful head of hair at the end of treatment although many times it turns out that way. Success depends on several factors such as the drug protocol and how it’s tolerated, the patient’s willingness to follow Penguin’s instructions, an unwavering commitment to staying hydrated, and the application of the caps.
And believe me, there’s an art to cold capping. Cappers who bring the caps to the correct temperature in a narrow timeframe, fit them tightly to the patient’s head, facilitate the changes and calmly deal with the unexpected make it look effortless. Much like great dancers or trained athletes do. This physically demanding, tactile process is not impossible to learn from videos or written text, but this superhero believes a hands-on demonstration to learn how to manipulate the caps is invaluable.
In the past five years, I’ve trained countless family members and loved ones who had chosen, for any number of reasons, not to hire an experienced capper. I made sure they were prepared to get the job done, safely and successfully. I’ve also trained a team of cappers in the Tri-state area who are known as some of the best in the business. Anyone in need should contact me for a referral.
So if this method is so terrific, why don’t more women and oncologists know about it? Great question. I’ve counseled crying patients who learned about cold caps after their first chemo treatment (hair generally falls out in that case), and I’ve had completely bald women in infusion centers ask angrily why they weren't offered this option. Other than heartfelt apologies, I can provide no solid explanation. I hope scalp cooling therapy will one day be as commonplace and revered in the US as it is in Europe. Until then I will push forward, one head at a time. I’m a passionate guardian of hair who derives immense gratification in helping people through a difficult time. It’s what I’d want someone to do for me.
My mother always said I should have been a nurse. She even asked me to empty a stranger’s bed pan in the hospital one time. Sorry Mom, that’s just not my thing, but if you were here today I know you’d be proud that I’m a dedicated hair-saving superhero instead.
Claudia Falzarano - Founder and President, Right Arm Inc. - firstname.lastname@example.org
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