PARIS, Tenn. — When Janet Greer was diagnosed with breast cancer in July, she said that like most patients, a lot of things began running through her mind.
One of them was not the possibility of losing her hair, a common side effect resulting from chemotherapy.
“I’m not a very vain person, so I was like, ‘Oh well, I guess I’m going to lose my hair,” she said this week. “So I didn’t think about my hair. That was not my big concern at all.”
However, she said her husband, Steve, was not willing to watch his wife endure many weeks of treatment to lose her dark brown hair – that is, if it were not necessary. And thanks to a treatment he discovered that involves the utilization of a specially-designed cap, Janet – now nearly halfway through her scheduled number of 20 chemo treatments – still has her head full of hair.
“If (other patients) are serious about keeping their hair, this is something to try,” Janet said of the treatment, known by their simple name “cold cap,” because it requires a temperature of -32 to -38 degrees and is driven by the use of dry ice. “And I’m glad we’re doing it. I may not have lost my hair if I hadn’t used this, but I know for sure that I have not lost my hair so far.
“I know another lady who is using it here in Paris. She’s at Stage 2, which is a little more advanced than what I’ve got (between Stage 0 and Stage 1), and she has kept her hair. So, off what I’ve seen so far, I think the cold therapy does help. I’ve also read how a lot of these ladies that have had cancer lost their hair, then grew it back, then their cancer came back and they used this. Well, they didn’t want to lose their hair again. Their families didn’t want them to lose their hair again and they haven’t lost their hair when they’ve used the cap.”
What has been particularly interesting to Janet about this treatment so far is that she has managed to avoid hair loss while taking a chemo drug that has a strong history of causing that — Taxol. She said her doctor chose to use Taxol because, while her cancer is very minimal, it is an aggressive cancer that could spread quickly. The Taxol will help prevent growth.
“The nurse I see has told me that, by Week 2, patients have lost all of their hair. It happens that quick,” Janet said. “So, I’ve gone through seven treatments so far and I’m getting more used to it. I (use the cap) during my treatments (at Henry County Medical Center in Paris). I put one on 30 minutes before the treatment to get my head good and cold, and I wear throughout the treatment, which lasts two hours, and throughout the treatment, I change out one for a new one (with Steve serving as the cap transfer person and making sure the caps stay cold). Then I wear it for 30 minutes after.”
As far as comfort, Janet said the first treatment was a very painful experience, namely because there was one important piece of information that she did not receive … ear protection is necessary.
“I actually was thinking maybe I just want to go ahead and lose my hair if I have to go through this,” she said. “I thought I was going to lose my ears because I didn’t have a cover for that. They were hurting so bad. So we found these little things on Amazon that clip over your ears and insulate the ear. Then I put two headbands on to protect my skin. I didn’t get that part before.
“Now, you’re a little more prepared for it and I’m getting more used to it. It does hurt some, though, because it’s so cold, but it’s not nearly as bad as when my ears were exposed so bad that first time.”
From research, Janet said she has learned that the reason ultra-cold works so well is that it blocks the cancer drugs from dividing hair cells by suspending those cells, essentially blocking the division process. She added that while the price is somewhat painful, what she is experiencing so far is worth it.
And she has Steve to thank.
“I call him my ice man right now,” she said. “He’s the one that goes out and gets the new cap for me and takes the one I was using back to the cooler we take with us. He was the one that got online and started investigating cold caps.
“He knows that when you lose your hair, you look sick and it’s not normal. He didn’t want that for me. He’s a super guy.”n