For many women who are told they have breast cancer and will need chemotherapy, one of their first thoughts is, “I’m going to lose my hair.” Vanessa and Shelly were no different. They, however, were spared what most assume is the inevitable outcome of chemotherapy. Under the innovative care of Dr. Young Lee, Chief of Oncology at Harbor Hospital, those pioneering women used Cold Cap therapy to preserve their hair, their dignity, and self esteem.
Cold Cap therapy uses special caps frozen to -40 degrees and worn for a period before, during, and after chemotherapy treatments. Cooling of the hair follicles prevents the chemotherapy toxins from reaching the follicles, and therefore preserving the patient’s hair. Dr. Lee has treated several patients with Cold Caps, all with great success.
Vanessa told us, “I didn’t want to look sick and to have people look at me and feel sorry.” When she began to lose hair from other parts of her body, she was relieved that her healthy head of hair remained intact. “Cancer takes so much away from you. I didn’t mind losing hair in other places, but I’ve always had long hair. I still look normal when people see me.” Vanessa uses 14 caps for her therapy, replacing the one in use every 30 minutes while undergoing chemotherapy.
Shelly echoes Vanessa’s desire not to broadcast to the world that she had cancer as her motivation to seek out Cold Cap therapy. In 2012, Shelly saw the news story of another Harbor Hospital patient who had successfully used the therapy and was moved by what the breakthrough meant for cancer patients. “A week later, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and was so thankful that I knew about Dr. Lee and Cold Cap therapy. The entire time I was having chemo, no one could tell that I had cancer,” Shelly said.
Shelly has completed her chemotherapy but returns to Harbor Hospital as Vanessa’s Cold Cap therapy buddy. She, along with Harbor Hospital staff, and Vanessa’s husband, monitors the time so that Vanessa’s caps are changed at the required intervals and are properly fitted. “It’s my way of paying it forward,” she told us. Vanessa promises to do the same once her chemo treatments end.
Dr. Lee approached The Red Devils about including Cold Cap therapy as a quality of life service eligible for funding. We happily created the Caps of Love Fund designated to provide access to Cold Cap therapy for Harbor Hospital patients unable to afford the $1,800 to $2,000 rental fee for the duration of treatment. According to Dr. Lee, “For many patients, the high price of renting the caps from a private supplier is a drawback to pursuing the therapy. A woman’s hair is not just a source of vanity. For a woman with breast cancer, keeping her hair offers a sense of empowerment, reassuring her that she is in control of her own life; and she can lead a relatively normal life. She doesn’t have to face a whole year of bad hair days.”