At a glance:
- Diagnosis: Stage 1, ER Positive HER2 negative breast cancer
- Drug regimen: 4 rounds of AC, followed by 12 rounds of Taxol
- Brenna says: “When I realized it was working, it gave me something to be proud of. It may sound silly, but keeping my hair became part of beating cancer”
Brenna is a high school teacher and a mom of four young children aged 9, 7 and two 5-year-old twins. Life is hectic, and Brenna’s hands are full, so a cancer diagnosis came as an unwelcome bolt out of the blue.
Brenna’s diagnosis and treatment
Brenna was diagnosed with Stage 1, ER Positive HER2 negative breast cancer just after her 41st birthday.
“With no history of cancer in my family, I never imagined this would happen to me. I was very upset and went through a whirlwind of emotions. I can only explain it as the five stages of grief – maybe I was mourning the person I used to be before cancer.”
Brenna was naturally anxious about many things: “How would my quality of life change? How would my children react? Would I even be alive in another five years? There were no answers or guarantees, and when I found out I had to go through chemo, I was devastated.”
Brenna was prescribed four rounds of AC (Adriamycin Cytoxan) every two weeks, followed by 12 weekly rounds of Taxol. A total of five months of chemo treatment on a regimen would typically result in complete hair loss.
Why was it important to you to save your hair?
Brenna explains, “My main concern was my quality of life, and I was willing to try anything to maintain my sense of self throughout this experience. I didn’t want my kids to worry; I wanted to protect them from the anxiety I was feeling.”
Brenna knew that if she were going to be able to stay positive throughout this experience, keeping her hair would help. She says, “I am a teacher, and I speak in front of people all day long, so it was important to keep my hair. Ultimately, I didn’t want people treating me differently or feeling sorry for me because of what I was going through.”
How did you find out about cold capping?
A co-worker of Brenna’s had successfully cold-capped with Penguin a few years before. “I asked my breast cancer navigator for her suggestions, and she too recommended Penguin. But even though she’d saved her hair, I was still sceptical.
“I knew my treatment regimen was tough on hair, and my oncologist wasn’t too confident either. There had only been one other person before me who had tried it at their facility.”
Having weighed her options, Brenna decided to give it a go and contacted Penguin. “A Penguin rep called me within an hour of my inquiry, and we talked on the phone for over an hour. It was my rep who reassured me enough to go with Penguin. She’d also used Penguin Cold Caps and successfully saved her hair on the same chemo regimen as me. She said that although she did lose some hair, she kept enough so that no one noticed.”
What was your experience of cold capping with Penguin?
Penguin sent Brenna the caps and everything she needed. “My husband was my cold capper, and he was great because he’s a mechanic and very precise when it comes to things like this, so I knew he could handle it. Obviously, it’s very cold, but you definitely get used to it.”
Brenna’s hair is long and thick, and although she felt like she’d shed a lot, there were no bald spots. She says she kept enough so anyone seeing her for the first time would assume her hair was a bit on the thin side.
“Overall, I am so happy I cold capped. Going through cancer is hard enough, but keeping my hair helped keep my head up and stay confident. When I realized it was working, it gave me something to be proud of. It may sound silly, but keeping my hair became part of beating cancer.
“Now, three months after, the hair on my head is getting thicker and looking better and better. It wasn’t easy, that’s for sure, but I am so glad I did it.”
Can you offer any tips or advice to others when using the caps?
Brenna has provided lots of tips and advice for anyone thinking of cold capping with Penguin:
- It’s worth mentioning that my hair didn’t start to get noticeably thinner until the end of the treatments, and I looked totally normal for the first three months.
- I used a thin hair net and oval-shaped cotton rounds to protect my ears. I put a thin piece of gauze on my hair parting to protect it from frostbite. And, as Penguin suggests, I placed a thin maxi on my forehead, cut the sides of it on the top so it wouldn’t stick to my hair, pulling it out when I removed it.
- Follow the directions! If your rep tells you to cap for five hours after the chemo session – DO IT. When they tell you to cap for an hour before the drugs start – DO IT. It’s no fun – but if you want to keep your hair, do precisely what they tell you.
- It takes a lot of dedication and preparation to do it right- so it’s important to know that signing up for this is a huge commitment.
- I washed my hair once a week with cold water and used shampoo with no sulphates or parabens. I did my best to stay out of the sun and minimize sweating.
- Even if you’re doing everything right, expect to lose some hair.