You can take my breasts….but not my hair. Losing my hair legitimately kept me up at night. Imagining hair loss made me sick and I couldn’t think of anything that would make me look and feel sicker than I already was. My sisters’ best friends promised me a wig of my own hair from Anton’s Hair Co to lighten the blow of possible hair loss, but it didn’t ease my anxiety. I already had to lose my perfect breasts, the ability to breast feed my future babies and most likely the ability to have a normal pregnancy…my hair too? It all just felt too much.
I knew I was blessed. I caught my cancer early. The loss of my sister to breast cancer was the reason I will get to live. I was in a program to detect it early and I caught it at Stage 1 in the right breast and Stage 0 in the left breast. Six months prior to my diagnosis, the cancer was not visible on an MRI. I have a powerful guardian angel that knows all too well the ins and outs of breast cancer and won’t allow me to have the same fate. A coworker of mine, Maridee Maraz, sent me a news article about cold caps. Post surgery, I was told that Chemotherapy was the next step in my recovery process. My tenacious goal at that point was to figure out how to keep my hair and make sure that no one else had to lose their hair. I received a lot of negative feedback from the staff at my treatment who did not believe cold caps would save my hair. I have received eight treatments of Taxol and have lost NO hair. There are many agencies that you can rent cold caps from that provide everything. They include specific instructions on how to use the cold caps and rent for as little as $600 per month, not including the dry ice. I read a ton on the internet as I was recovering from my double mastectomy and in the end decided to purchase everything I needed on Amazon.com, rather than renting. I determined my own process to freeze my hair bulbs and keep my hair! I’m here to share my resources and experience in order to help you or your loved one save their hair too.
Purchases from Amazon.com:
- Cold Caps to be used for 20 minutes each before, during and after infusion
The FDA has requested additional documentation from manufacturers of “chemo caps”. As a result, Elasto-Gel had to stop selling their chemo caps until the paperwork is approved. I was also told that three caps would work and can be refrozen within 20 minutes by the dry ice. I have 8 caps that I would love to share locally if you’re in Seattle beginning 2/11/17. Please email me if you would like to use them. firstname.lastname@example.org
- Mittens and booties to wear during chemotherapy to reduce the side effects of neuropathy. These do not need to be put into dry ice. Instead put these in the freezer. Ideally two sets are need to continually keep your hands and feet hold enough to prevent the chemotherapy from causing neuropathy
- A cooler with wheels to store the dry ice and cold caps and easily transport to infusion
- An infrared thermometer to check the temperature of the cold caps with ideal starting temperature of -40 degrees F or below
- Mole Skin to protect the skin on my forehead from potential frost bite from the cold caps
- Silk Pillowcases to prevent unnecessary friction on my hair bulbs while I sleep
- Wet Brush as recommended by my hair stylist to pull the least after washing my hair
- Organic Silica supplement taken 3 times daily to strengthen hair
- Biotin supplement taken 3 times daily to strengthen hair
- Shampoo & Conditioner free of parabens and sulfates to be used only twice a week (1 day before chemotherapy and 3 days after chemotherapy)How to prepare the cold caps with dry ice?I found the locations to purchase dry ice near my home. I made a plan to get dry ice every Thursday night. I purchased between 20 and 25 pounds of dry ice each week spending between $30 and $40 each week. I numbered the cold caps from 1 to 8 and made sure that each cold cap had dry ice surrounding it and were placed in a logical order. The easiest and most effective method was to lay large blocks of dry ice on the bottom of the cooler and place half the caps upside down on the dry ice. Then place a second layer of dry ice bricks on top of the caps, place the remaining caps upside down on the second layer of dry ice. I recommend wearing gloves when handling dry ice or you risk getting frostbitten. I had chemo every Friday afternoon, therefore, the caps had nearly 18 hours in dry ice before they were needed. Dry ice seems to last for about 24 hours and longer when left in large chunks and left outside in the cold as much as possible. Dry ice will disintegrate as its just carbon dioxide eliminating the need for clean up. I wore each cold cap for 20 minutes. We would take the temperature when we started a new cap but it almost always read “Low” which I deemed to mean less than -50 degrees F. When I took them off after the 20 minutes, the temperature would usually be around 0 degrees F. I don’t feel like I tortured myself. I believe I took control of the effects of chemotherapy and felt empowered. The best way for me to describe the feeling of putting on a freezing cold cap is similar to skiing/snowboarding without a hat….its a bit cold ;-).How I protected my skin from the extreme cold of cold caps?
I placed mole skin on my forehead (unnecessary if you have bangs). I read that the extreme temperature of the caps can cause frost bite on any skin touching the caps. For the mole skin, I only had the lower half sticky to make it easier to take off and didn’t want to accidentally pull out hair that got stuck to the mole skin from above my forehead. I also tried to adjust the part in my hair for each chemotherapy session just in case I got frost bite on my scalp because of the part. I also wore a shower cap that came with the cold caps. I read that some get their hair wet with a spray bottle before each session but didn’t end up doing that.
How I used the colds caps with my chemotherapy?
I will receive 12 chemotherapy treatments (combination of Taxol and Herceptin) for 12 weeks on Friday afternoons. I started the caps 30 minutes before Taxol begins while I was receiving Herceptin. Herceptin is a targeted chemotherapy that does not have a side effect of hair loss thus I was able to start the cold cap process during the Herceptin infusion. Once Taxol began, I was on my second cold cap. My girlfriends would make sure to replace the caps as quickly as possible every 20 minutes. I used all 8 caps and since my full infusion treatment was just 30 minutes for Herceptin followed by 60 minutes for Taxol, I drove home with cold caps on and continued to wear them at home. I think its important to wear them before the treatment starts, during your treatment and after for at least an hour. It was a struggle to know if the caps were cold enough, tight enough and if I was wearing them long enough. In the end, I just had to trust that I was doing what I could to maintain my cherished locks.
How to care for your hair in between chemotherapy sessions?
I was spoiled as my fabulous hair stylist, Adrielle Gross at Gary Manuel Salon, shampooed and conditioned my hair twice a week following my double mastectomy and throughout chemotherapy. She used cold water and Dry Remedy Shampoo and Conditioner which is free of parabens and sulfates. She blow dried my hair with cold air sometimes with help from another hair stylist, Jose Ramirez, and myself. She brushed my hair with a wet brush. I only washed my hair twice a week. I read to wash your hair one day prior to chemotherapy and three days after resulting in a hair washing schedule for me on Mondays and Thursdays. I never curled, straightened, or even put my hair in a ponytail. I took baths twice a day and used a silk scarf and scrunchy to keep it out of the bath. I used a silk pillow case while watching TV, reading or sleeping.
What can I eat and which supplements can I take to support my hair?
I learned that you should not drink caffeine while trying to save your hair from chemotherapy with colds caps so I have kicked my coffee habit. I also learned that taking Organic Silica was essential. In the beginning of my treatments, the Silica I ordered had not arrived so I started by taking Biotin. The majority of the 3 months I was undergoing chemotherapy, I took both Organic Silica and Biotin three times per day but occasionally I would run out of one or the other and only be taking Silica or just Biotin. Your nails, skin and hair elsewhere on your body will thank you for taking Biotin and Silica as chemotherapy takes a toll on any cells that multiply which includes all of these. I ate super healthy throughout my treatments which I go into more detail here.