Why are chemo patients are choosing to save their hair with cold capping?
Published: 24 Jun 2020
A cancer diagnosis can strike fear into the heart of anyone who’s ever received one – and according to shocking new statistics from Cancer Research UK, it is estimated that one in two people in the UK will be faced with that unwelcome news at some point in their lives.
Many people diagnosed with cancer will need to undergo a course of chemotherapy – with hair loss being one of the dreaded side effects. No one wants to lose their hair but for some, the thought is simply too much. And this is why more and more people are discovering and choosing to save their hair using cold capping.
Although this treatment has been around for a while, not many people know about it. The medical world has been slow to embrace and recommend, preferring to focus solely on treating the cancer. But more and more oncologists are beginning to recognize the positive psychological benefits on patients who have chosen to save their hair using cold capping.
How does it work?
It works by snuggly fitting very cold gel-filled caps around the patients head for a period of time before, during and after chemo treatment. This cools the scalp, causing the hair follicles and surrounding cells to enter into a hibernated state, which stops the hair bulbs from absorbing the chemo drugs. The result is that the hair follicles remain undamaged and the chemo patient retains most of their hair.
To find out more about cold capping, read our blog What is Cold Capping?
Cold capping is a personal choice. Many people choose to embrace their hair loss as an inevitable side-effect of chemo, but for others losing their hair can have a knock-on effect on their lives.
Here are some of the reasons why Penguin Cold Cap Therapy Users say it was so important to them to save their hair.
I don’t want to lose my looks
Self-image is important to most of us. It gives us confidence when we feel attractive and even our sense of self-worth. The negative impact of losing their hair is too much for many – especially when your crowning glory is your pride and joy.
Molly: “Hair is a very important part of my daily life because I am a hairdresser. And I am known, amongst my family and friends, for my beautiful hair.”
Cathy Sewell: “The only thing I am really vain about is my hair, as it is long, very thick, curly and strawberry blonde.”
Although this wasn’t apparent to many people when they initially chose to cold cap, they soon recognized and appreciated the psychological effect saving their hair had on their state of mind. They report that it aided their ability to bounce back and recover after chemo. Even doctors are beginning to acknowledge that they need to treat the whole person to give them the best chance of making a full recovery, not just the disease.
Dani Walsh: “Chemo changes the way we feel and look. I figured if I didn’t look sick, I wouldn’t feel sick. And it worked! I only missed work on the 8 days of chemo.”
Steve Cooper: “I felt that if I could look at normal as possible during chemo that I would do better overall and would be less likely to get depressed.”
Lisa: “Being able to keep my hair kept my spirits high and gave me the energy and courage to keep up my fight. It truly gave me hope.”
Kathy: “This is truly amazing and had allowed me to keep my dignity and self-esteem.”
I want to maintain a sense of control over my life
Having some semblance of control over the disease was a major factor why some people choose to cold cap. Many people see saving their hair as a way of fighting back and not allowing cancer to take anything more away from them than it already has.
Lori Kestler: “My first thought was that I cannot fight this cancer without my hair. I cannot lose my identity and not be me. To me, this was not about vanity.”
Bonita Weavingearth: “I felt proactive in taking care of myself. Among all the other painful, humiliating, powerless moments during treatment, I didn’t have to heap hair loss on top of everything else.”
Lori Carmel: “I was able to keep my dignity. I never looked sick which is so empowering when going through treatment.”
Karen: “Doctors have a tendency to see a disease and not the person it’s living in. The one thing I could control was my hair. It centered me, gave me focus and kept me from feeling like a victim.”
Karen Schwartz: “Losing my hair meant that I would look sick and I didn’t want that. If this meant that I could keep some normalcy in my life during a process in which you have so little control, I thought, ‘let me have this one.’”
I want to protect my children
As soon as mummy and daddy start to lose their hair, young children know there is something wrong. Many people told us they didn’t want to scare their children in thinking that one of their parents was seriously ill – and therefore it was important that they kept their hair.
Silvana Scata: “I have to admit my first thought was not ‘am I going to die’ but ‘I’m going to lose my hair’. I have 3 sons aged 11,9 and 6, how could I lose my hair, look sick and risk scaring them?”
I don’t want work, friends and family to know
Many people want to maintain their privacy and not let on to everyone that they have cancer. Work was of particular concern with many people saying they did not want colleagues or customers knowing. This is especially true for people that work in a more public setting, such as a teacher, lawyer or actor.
Farrah Zweig: “My first thought was, my hair is going to fall out and everyone will know, from my clients to my friends to my kids.”
Dani Walsh: “My career. I work with clients in 7 states and had no intention of them knowing that I was battling cancer. Just my personal choice.”
Eileen Bruno: “I was really struggling with the fact that not only was I sick, but I was going to have to look sick to myself and the rest of the world.”
I don’t want pity
Whilst a bit of sympathy and understanding is welcome, most cancer patients would rather not be subjected to pity or people feeling sorry for us. People undergoing chemo are fighters – they don’t want to be seen as victims. Here are a few comments from the people we asked.
Dani Walsh: “I didn’t want to look sick in public. I didn’t want people I didn’t know to feel sorry for me or to wonder if I was dying.”
Lisa Michalak: “I’ve always been an independent person, someone who likes a challenge, fights for what’s hers and doesn’t complain. I knew I had a battle to fight but I didn’t want the sympathy and the “Oh you have cancer” eyes from the people around me.”
Lori Carmel: “Complete hair loss which is associated with chemo was something I was dreading. I didn’t want people looking at me and feeling sorry for me that I had cancer.”
Susy Evans: “Everybody doesn’t have to know, you don’t have to walk around ‘oh she has cancer, what’s the matter with Susy?’”
I want to keep my life as normal as possible
In the main, what it really came down to is that people undergoing chemo want things to go on as normal. They don’t want to look in the mirror and have a daily reminder that they are sick. There will be times when chemo patients don’t feel well, lack energy and can’t so as much as they would otherwise do. But these are their decisions, and until they say otherwise, they want everyone to treat them the same as they would do normally.
Megan Pischke Porcheron: “I could wake up in the morning and fake it, and not think I’m going through cancer. It was really helpful to have those moments where I felt like this big crazy life thing isn’t happening. It was still there, but I could put it aside.”
Lisa Michalak: “I wanted to be treated normally, and I felt that if I lost my hair, normal life couldn’t happen. I wasn’t accepting that as my reality.”
Farrah Zweig: “Life went on in my house like nothing eventful was occurring. We celebrated birthdays, went to concerts and soccer games and I could just be mom and wife, and I could just be me. And I would even forget I had cancer.”