Archive for February, 2010

Can you REALLY hang on to your hair during chemotherapy?

Sunday, February 7th, 2010

Well I’ve just had my sixth chemo session, which means, with the exception of 20 days of radiotherapy, it’s over.  I’ll have the usual few days of feeling rubbish, but I’m used to that, and I know the best way of dealing with it is by keeping busy.  What’s really bugging me at the moment is my hair.  I decided to use scalp cooling (more commonly known as the Cold Cap) to try and hang on to my locks.  It didn’t work, as I’ve lost about 70% of my hair, but I don’t believe it was a failure either.

If you’re about to have chemotherapy and you want to try the cold cap, here’s what you need to know:

  • However long your treatment takes, add another two and a half hours.  Why? Because the cold cap works by constricting the hair follicles while the treatment is taking place.  So for half an hour before the chemotherapy drugs are administered and for two hours afterwards, you have to wear that cap.
  • The ‘cap’ that you wear looks a little like a jockey’s hat and is plugged into a refrigeration system that maintains a constant temperature of minus 5.5 degrees.  When the cap is fitted snugly to your head, the freezing cold sensation that you experience is fairly intense, bordering on excruciating, but the good news is that after ten minutes you forget all about it.
  • After two and a half hours, don’t attempt to take the cold cap off because if you do you’ll pull out lots of your precious hair.  Ice has formed inside the cap and is frozen to your hair, so it’s vital the refrigeration machine is turned off, and you defrost for ten minutes.
  • How much hair you lose will also depend on what drugs you’ve been prescribed.  As my cancer was a grade three, I knew that hanging on to my hair would be difficult.  Initially, though, the fall out was fairly mild, but after the second and third chemo sessions, the hair was falling out rapidly, so I had to wear a turban to avoid shedding hair everywhere.
  • To try and keep what hair was there I was told not to touch my hair very often and to shampoo in cold water.  Well I could understand the cold water bit, it made sense to keep those follicles constricted, but if the hair was going to fall out, Id rather it fell out.  So, every morning and every evening I’d gently brush my hair over the loo bowl.  It was also a good way of gauging just how much hair was coming out.
  • What was very soon obvious was that my hairstyle was resembling Friar Tuck’s.  All the hair was disappearing from the top of my head, but staying around the edges.  Now while that was disappointing to have such an obvious and growing bald patch, it did mean when I wore a turban, my hair was visible at the front.  It looked like I had hair so that gave me the confidence to NOT wear my wig that often.  In fact I still wear my turban to work, the shops, meetings, networking events and I feel more comfortable, more ‘me’ and that’s a bonus.
  • Now my hair is growing back (steel grey fuzz is a better description), I am trying to see how the long wisps of hair surrounding it will work to my advantage.  I know from experience that when you’re bald after chemo, you need at least another seven or eight months before you have any real hair to style – and even then it’s really, really short.  This is still work in progress, so I’ll keep you posted.