As well as having a demanding position as executive director at a women's health care organization, Pattie also plays an active role in the lives of her large family, 5 children and 6 grandchildren. And when Pattie was first diagnosed with breast cancer, it was these two important aspects of her life that were front-of-mind.
Luckily for me, I knew that my cancer was pretty much 100% curable because it was caught so early – so my fears were more about the side-effects of the chemo. It was imperative to me that my grandchildren were not frightened or affected by my health care episode. It was also important that my colleagues and other professional parties, that I come into contact with at work, did not look at me and just focus on the cancer.
Losing my hair would mean that everyone would know.
What was your diagnosis?
I was fortunate. My DCIS cell was discovered whilst still a single cell and still very small (half the size of a pea) through a routine breast MRI scan ordered by my gynecologist. It was so small it wasn’t even picked up by my annual mammogram – so I am very grateful that I had the MRI.
I had several biopsies of my limp nodes and the surrounding area, and all was normal. Because it was picked up so early it was curable and easily removed through surgery.
What was your treatment?
Although the cancer cell was completely removed by the surgery, it was suggested I have chemotherapy as an added preventative measure – just to be completely sure there would be no recurrence.
I had 4 treatments of TC (Taxotere and Cyclophosphamide), 3 weeks apart. I was told that TC would result in complete hair loss after just the first treatment.
My oncologist said many women walk away from the treatment because of the hair loss side effect. Although temporary, it is devastating.
Why did you choose Penguin Cold Caps?
My oncologist gave me the details of Tisha Petersen, a Penguin Cold Caps representative. Some of her other patients had used Penguin in the past and had a positive experience.
I also searched online about cold capping and researched various providers and read customer reviews. Although most people reported some shedding across all systems, it seemed apparent to me that Penguin Cold Cap users were reporting lower amounts of hair loss than other providers.
Tisha was immediately responsive when I called her and spent over an hour on the phone explaining the process in detail. She put me in touch with two other people in my town who had used Penguin Cold Caps with success. They shared their experience with me and were very generous with their time, answering my questions before and during my treatment.
How did you find using the caps?
I was so overwhelmed by the whole diagnosis, surgery and chemo that I decided to ask Tisha to manage the entire thing for me. She helped me with the ordering process and capped at all of my treatments. She even stayed with me at the chemo center for 3 – 5 hours afterward, reapplying the caps and keeping them at the optimal temperature to give me the best chance of success.
For me, the cold didn't feel as cold as I'd expected. It felt quite intense for the first 15 minutes when the first cap was put on, but once my head had cooled down it was fine.
Tisha provided incredible emotional support and knowledge regarding nutrition, hair care and general follow up. If you're going to cold cap you must understand that you need to commit to the regime and do what your cold capper says. Otherwise, you won't get the results you want.
What were your results?
I am very pleased with the outcome. Overall, I have saved about 65% of my hair. It's definitely thinner, but because I've shed evenly I have no bald patches and no one has noticed.
I have fine, shoulder length hair, although there is a lot of it. I started to shed after the 2nd treatment. I was expecting this, but I was surprised at how upsetting I found it when what seemed like chunks of hair were falling out in the shower, or when combing my hair. Emotionally it's a reminder of what the drugs are doing to your body, but I also worried that it wasn't working for me. But Tisha was there to reassure me that this was all perfectly normal.
It was only afterward that I truly realized how important it was to keep my hair, not just for work and my family, but also for my wellbeing. It helps to reduce stress levels, which I believe has helped with my clinical healing and ability to bounce back so quickly.
It has allowed me to take back some control over my body.
Do you have any tips or advice for others when using the caps?
- Listen to your capper or Penguin rep and follow their advice. Capping is a two-way street and if you want it to work you must follow the instructions.
- Take a heated blanket along to your treatments and things to occupy you. I took my laptop and worked much of the time.
- Make sure to drink your fluids throughout and afterward – very important for flushing out the toxins that can increase hair loss.
- Use a wide comb and never pull your hair.
- Use a silk pillow case. If you find your hair is thinner in places, it could be where you sleep. Also, try an airplane neck cushion to try to stop your head resting too heavily on the pillow and inadvertently pulling my hair.
- And ask your rep lots of questions.