K is for… Keeping Hair – Cold Capping

20 Nov

The thought of losing my hair was terrifying in itself. I know that sounds really vain when you’re being faced with a life-threatening illness, but that wasn’t my motivation. I just wanted to look like “me” and preserve some control, normality and self-confidence – my diagnosis had already taken TOO much from me. I’m also quite a private person and didn’t want my head to scream “I’VE GOT CANCER” to those I didn’t want to tell. So I decided to try out the cold cap.

At my first visit to my oncologist I was told that I was having dose dense chemo – 8 sessions of the stuff – and that it was the most aggressive form of chemo and that the cold cap wouldn’t work for me. This was like a red rag, and I set out to prove that my hair follicles WOULD hang on in there….

It works for some and not for others, some hospitals don’t offer scalp cooling, and those that do have different types. Some are kept cold in the freezer and have to be changed regularly during treatment and others are run by machines to keep them at the brain-chilling temperature. I had the latter – a machine made by Paxman. You wear it for a set period prior to chemo, during chemo and after chemo. The time varies dependig on the drug, but it will add at least an hour onto your treatment time. I lost quite alot – about 3/4 of my hair – but have met some women who hardly thinned at all (in my experience most of them didn’t have TAX) and others who lost all of their hair but persevered as your hair grows back quicker afterwards.

Here I am wearing my cap and plugged into my chemo drip! Helloooo!

cold cap

One thing I wasn’t quite prepared for was actually cracking ice off my frozen head having worn it for hours and hours. But hey, no pain, no gain.

This was me one month after my final chemo (eyebrows and eyelashes also reappearing – but topped up with make-up – see B is for… Beauty Tips During Chemo):

Cold Cap Results

So here’s my advice and top tips:

1) Before you start. I chopped my hair into a short bob and got my hairdresser to dye it to my original hair colour prior to starting chemo so my roots wouldn’t look so bad. I have lots of pesky grey hairs and spoke to Paxman during my treatment who said that I could use a natural, vegetable-based hair dye (no parabens, no ammonia) during treatment – but I piked out and waited until a couple of weeks after my final chemo before getting it done by my hairdresser.

2) Be prepared for a bad hair day…everyday for 5 months! Infrequent washing, limited hair products and limited use of hairdryers, straighteners or curling tongs mean most of us wont be looking our best. BUT a bad hair day for me was better than a no-hair day and the long-term results are worth it (in my opinion!).

3) You WILL lose some hair so don’t panic too much when it starts falling out. My first major shed was about 3 weeks after my first chemo. My scalp felt really tender and handfuls of hair came out and I was convinced it was game over. However, I persevered and although I generally shed hair all over the place with another major shed after each chemo sesh, I managed to hold onto enough hair. I wore mini scarves (not full-on chemo ones – kind of gypsy-scarves with bits of hair poking out of the bottom and the front), headbands and clipped my hair up (mainly to stop it from falling out all over the place). My favourite scarves were from Fat Face and Accessorize. I did develop some bald spots and my parting got wider and wider – but this all filled in pretty quickly even before the end of chemo as you can see in the pic above. I wish I had taken a photo of the state of my hair while using the cold cap as I have met girls since who have given up using it halfway through and don’t believe that my hair thinned as much as theirs. But I looked rough and hid from cameras! So no photos exist. All I can say is that my hair thinned drastically and I almost gave up but persevered on the advice of friend who had used it the previous year – and I am so, so glad I did.

4) Use natural ph balanced shampoos and conditioner and apply gently. I used Simple and only washed my hair every 5 days or so. I just smoothed the shampoo and conditioner onto wet hair and rinsed it off – no vigorous rubbing.

5) Comb your hair gently with a wide-toothed comb. At one point I decided not to comb it in an attempt to preserve more hair – but just ended up with a massive matted dreadlock thing which I had to chop off.

6) Be gentle. Don’t rub your hair vigorously with the towel and limit your use of straighteners and hairdryers to special occasions only. Otherwise just let your hair dry naturally.

7) Conditioner rocks. Apply conditioner liberally on damp hair before using the cold cap and leave for as long as possible – at least 24 hours – although I tended to leave it for a couple of days. I just donned a headscarf or buff to hide my greasy-looking locks.

8) Invest in a silk pillowcase. I got a cheapy off Ebay. It is recommended by Paxman, and I don’t know how effective it is at slowing down hairloss, but it’s also meant to be good for your skin and feels nice!! Especially when those hot flushes hit…

9) Dealing with discomfort. I, luckily, had no issues with the cold cap and am not sure I could have done it for 8 sessions if I’d hated every second of it. I just popped it on and settled in for a Jeremy Kyle/This Morning daytime TV fest. Whilst having TAX I actually slept for 4 hours  each session with the cold cap on as a result of the piriton that was pumped into my IV. However, Mr B gave it a go and lasted less than a minute – so success could also be down to the individual’s ability to cope with it. I popped a couple of paracetamol on my way to the hospital, drank a nice hot drink when it was being wedged on my head, and cosied in under my electric blanket that my hospital kindly provided. You could always take a blanket and a hot water bottle along if you suffer from the cold. I had my chemo over the summer months, so the weather was quite nice, but I would imagine that if you are having it in winter, then a nice, fleecy buff would be in order to don after you’ve hacked the icicles from your head and are about to brave the wintery cold.

10) What to do post-chemo. I continued treating my hair as above until it felt a bit more sturdy – about 2 weeks after my final chemo session. I then tried out a number of products. My favourites were Nioxin (which Kylie was reported to have used) and Kerastase. Both came in packs with a shampoo, conditioner and a spray. My hair thickened up very quickly and grew really fast. There’s also a new product on the market that a couple of my friends are trying – it’s called FAST (Fortified Amino Scalp Therapy) which was developed for chemo patients and they claim that it makes hair grow 2 inches every month. I also ignored professional advice and got my roots dyed a couple of weeks after my final session as they looked awful – and I didn’t see what the point of keeping my hair if I had to continue to wear headscarves for 6 months. But maybe best to talk to your hairdresser and consider a vegetable-based parabens, ammonia and peroxide-free dye if you feel like risking it too.

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5 Responses to “K is for… Keeping Hair – Cold Capping”

  1. Cathy Graham June 9, 2013 at 7:20 pm #

    Thank you sooooooo much for writing this! I am about to start my first bout of chemo next Tuesday and I have been debating the cold cap idea for weeks. Now that I’ve read this I’m feeling more confident about giving it a go 🙂

  2. Shauna November 17, 2013 at 3:40 pm #

    Thank you! I have had two rounds of chemo (TC), used the Penguin Cold Cap for each, and am shedding a LOT. I have two more to go, and was wondering what might be in store for me regarding further hair loss. Your experience in the beginning was like mine has been so far – so I’m hoping the rest will be, too. Thanks for the tips on how to help minimize hair loss and help it get back to healthy!

    • Romli March 27, 2014 at 11:22 am #

      brit, i just stumbled upon your blog from pieesrtnt (oven fried green beans seems so silly after all i’ve just read ). I just want you to know that I’ll be thinking about you as you travel this cancer journey .I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at 13 weeks into my pregnancy with my third child. after surgery, the (amazingly intelligent) docs at Duke and UNC determined treatment was necessary and I had chemo while pregnant. they promised me by baby would be completely safe, which he was. I had surgery again when he was six weeks old .so i guess my point is, i can imagine, somewhat, what you are going through and I know how tough it’s going to be .but i also know how strong we mom’s can be .and i know that you are going to get to the other side of this with flying colors. Your blog is inspiring, and I can tell that you are too. Much love to you and your family. Take good care, and I’m going to be following you to see how great you are doing.your newest fan, kellyps those aforementioned oven fried green beans look amazing. i can’t wait to make them hopefully when i do, it will send you some good vibes to keep feeling great and getting healthy.

  3. Debbie Stokes March 11, 2014 at 8:36 am #

    Sat and read your experience using the cold cap and got realy emotional ! im using the cold cap and am about to have number 6 out of 12 once a week chemo with Placlitaxol and after number 3 my hair started coming out in handfuls!.Reading about you has helped me soooo much and given me much needed hope.I to have had my hair cut to a short Bob which was hard as my hair was long but now im glad and will continue with the cold cap.Just to let other people know the first week wearing the cold cap is the worst and im sure this is just fear as we all read and hear so much prior to starting chemo but after 20 mins I truely think your brain tells you that actually its ok and then you relax eat drink watch tv etc and I always took a friend “Chemo Buddy ” and the time flew by.
    Thank you so much so pleased I saw this website 🙂

  4. LC July 20, 2015 at 2:53 pm #

    I just want to say a massive thank you to you for all the info on this website. I had my first chemo 2 weeks and wore a cold cap but have been really terrified and disheartened by the amount of hair I have lost already but after reading your page it has reassured me and brought back the positive attitude that I’ve managed to have from diagnosis until now. I hope you are keeping well,

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