I remember two years ago when my sister Kate and I would briskly walk through Dr. Michelle White’s consulting room door every three weeks before treatment, like clockwork, with my head secured in the blue Penguin Cold Cap, allowing only my fine facial features *(squashed as they were) to be left poking through. Layers of velcro elastic straps were bandaged diagonally, pressing the sobering -30 degrees Celsius cap hard against my scalp.
I would rock back and forth in my chair, slapping my hands across my freezing head, with great force, Kate would offer her hands and do the same, to deflect from the first 30 minutes of sheer agony. This pain I would describe as 100 needles were piecing my skin at the same time as I tried to devour 1000 icy poles all at once. It was hard to listen, let alone speak! Michelle would direct information to both Kate and I and grimace with empathy between speaking. Our walk down to oncology to commence chemotherapy was a hazardous one. Despite knowing the hospital inside and out by his time, I would often bump into walls and lose direction – brain freeze overload! Kate and I would giggle like two sisters up to mischief, as the whole thing just seemed so silly!
Back in late 2013, it was almost taboo, as one of my doctors handed me a hair-preserving print out containing some information about preserving my hair during chemotherapy, a system known as the Penguin Cold Caps (born in the ‘80s), after mind you, I asked about saving my beloved hair. “It’s worked for some, so you might want to give it a try” said my doctor. I didn’t deliberate, my mind was made up. That day I made contact with the Penguin Cold Cap’s representative in New Zealand to ‘book in’ my scalp cooling system. After a few phone calls and emails I was instructed to collect my caps from a patient who had just finished their treatment. So off I trotted to meet my new hair-saving companion! Treatment was to start in just over a month’s time.
This cumbersome (and I must say, not terribly welcomed by the nurses) hair preserving option required all hands on deck! First, I gathered around me my cold-cap team: my sister Kate, Mum and Dad, an esky, eight cold caps, plastic lunch box containers, dry ice, an ice scoop, gloves, velcro straps and an infrared thermometer. At first, it wasn’t easy bringing all of this into the oncology ward, so a phone call prior to commencement to request a chair in a corner of the room was in order so as to not disturb the other patients with this noisy and rather disruptive circus side-show. This was two years ago. Now, slowly but surely, things in this area have evolved as electronic cooling caps are now becoming available to patients – enter the Paxman cooling system! No BYO caps or paraphernalia required! These wonderful machines (that remind me of mini-air conditioning units) are electric and the system consists of the cooling machine itself, two cap layers and a pipe running from the caps to the machine – it’s that simple. Forget the discomfort of below-arctic temperatures, the bearable -4 degree Celsius scalp cooling caps are more tolerable, convenient and appear to deliver much the same results for preserving hair.
This is my second time saving my hair and I haven’t looked back!