I can hardly believe that tomorrow is one year since I finished chemo for my third cancer. So many of you followed me on my journey to save my hair, asked many questions of cold capping and were so supportive (thank you!). I wanted to provide an update on my post-chemo hair journey as many people still ask how it’s going.
For newbie readers or those needing a recap: I cleared breast cancer last year, my third separate cancer (osteosarcoma and melanoma). Thankfully, my diagnosis was early stage and I underwent a lumpectomy with clean margins and two clean lymph nodes. I should have ‘only’ needed radiation with the lumpectomy but my tumor tissue tested slightly high for possible long term recurrence. Adding chemo in would drop the risk from 28% to less than 1%. Hard to argue with that change in odds so I sucked it up and underwent four rounds of chemo. After being completely bald for 15 months during bone cancer treatment, I didn’t want to be bald again….and thankfully I didn’t have to as there was a resource: cold cap therapy.
Cold capping saved my hair
Cold cap therapy, or cold capping, is the process of “narrowing the blood vessels beneath the skin of the scalp, reducing the amount of chemotherapy medicine that reaches the hair follicles. With less chemotherapy medicine in the follicles, the hair may be less likely to fall out. The cold also decreases the activity of the hair follicles, which slows down cell division and makes the follicles less affected by the chemotherapy medicine.” (breastcancer.org) There are two options – manual caps and scalp cooling systems; both include tightly fitting, strap-on, helmet-type hats filled with a gel coolant that’s chilled to between -15 to -40 degrees Fahrenheit. I used manual caps.
I shared some pros and cons about cold capping in this previous blog post. There is no guarantee that cold capping will save any of your hair. Much depends on your chemo drugs, doses, hair type and, in some ways, luck. There are a lot of guidelines you need to follow during chemo and for several months post-chemo. I shared tips in this blog post. I also wanted to provide some insight and thoughts into the post-chemo hair journey as it’s been interesting and a learning experience too.
My post-chemo hair journey updates
I overall lost 40-50% of my hair during chemo. It was honestly still devastating to lose that much, especially with all the work of cold capping. But I wasn’t bald and that was my overall goal. When I look back at pictures from last year, it looks crazy thin (God bless the people who kept saying it looked great). However, the great thing about cold capping helping to save hair is that unless I shared with people that I was going through chemo, acquaintances and strangers didn’t know. They assumed I had thin hair. There is a refreshing factor to that.
My hair is slowly growing back (never as fast as we want, right?). The texture feels thinner and a bit frizzy (compared to pre-chemo). I had super thick, wavy hair prior to chemo so it’s probably not fair to compare to that, but people ask if my hair is different and it is.
My new growth is curly. I like the curls – super easy to care for – and feel a little sassy when they’re extra curly and bouncy! Hopefully the curls stay a long time!
I maintained some of the cold cap guidelines almost through September, meaning cool wash, no hats (although I wore my bike helmet!) and extra gentle care. I still only wash my hair every 2-4 days as it’s used to less washing so doesn’t feel dirty, use a wide tooth comb (hello, curls), natural hair care products, weekly apple cider vinegar rinse, silk pillowcases. These are good care tips anyway so why not continue?
Cold capping is a lot of work. It’s not for everyone. And it unfortunately doesn’t work for everyone. It’s ok to choose to lose your hair. I have experienced both baldness and saving most of my hair. I’m so grateful for this resource and am working to help spread the word about it and help make it more accessible to patients. Thank you to those who share my posts to help others!
Life after chemo
I get stuck sometimes describing last year’s treatment. I, in fact, stared at this computer screen for a while before typing. Sometimes it feels like ages ago because I was so over it before it even started. I thankfully wasn’t as physically sick as bone cancer treatment. I was able to keep some hair thanks to cold capping. But being diagnosed with a third cancer was….devastating. It was hard and even harder that so many people didn’t get it. Many even assumed because I had hair and wasn’t super sick from chemo that it was no big deal. I assure you that ALL cancers are a big deal and ANY chemo is poison. There is no good or bad chemo. So please don’t be that person to dismiss someone’s journey, especially if you’ve never been through treatment.
However, like with any journey, I try to find the positive. And there were lots of surprisingly positive opportunities that came from clearing my third cancer and cold capping. I stay focused on those and embracing life beyond cancer. I’ve learned that only you can control how you react to anything. I decided long ago that cancer would not control my life. I control my life.
Thank you following me on this post-chemo hair journey and for supporting me through cancer and life. If you have any questions on cold capping or anything related to my cancer journey, please don’t hesitate to contact me!