Location: Worcestershire, UK
Cancer type: Breast
Drug type: Unknown
Hair type: Short
"I am a firm believer in No pain - No gain. I knew that the Paxman experience wasn’t going to be a pleasant one however, I had decided that I was going to give it a try. "
My name is Karen & I live in Broadway, Worcestershire. I am the mother of 3 children – a daughter aged 20 & twin boys aged 16. I have been self-employed for the past 6 years & I work from home selling Global Military Surplus items. A bizarre line of work I know but it’s absolutely fascinating.
Working from home fits in perfectly with my family. I am able to support my boys at sporting events, provide a full-time taxi service & be there at the end of the school day to hear all about their antics.
Life was ticking along nicely until my world came crashing down on 09th February 2018. Following a routine breast screening at my local hospital on 11th January 2018, I was recalled for further assessments at Bromsgrove Breast Clinic. I received a further breast examination together with an ultrasound scan & a core biopsy. My anxiety levels went “through the roof” & this is where the Roller Coaster “journey” (how I hate the J word!!!) commenced.
After a week of playing the “waiting game”, I was diagnosed with Grade 3 HER2 Positive Hormone Sensitive Ductal Breast Cancer. I felt like I’d been hit by a steam train at full speed. Paul & I discussed the diagnosis with the children on the Saturday morning however, we remained positive – well you have to for your family & those around you don’t you? Once we heard the words “aggressive cancer” we opted to pay for private surgery & everything moved very quickly. Following diagnosis on 09th February, I received a Wire Guided Wide Local Excision on 14th February – in other words a lumpectomy on Valentine’s Day (I think it was the most money that Paul has ever spent on me for Valentine’s Day!!!) Recovery was quick & life carried on.
I’ve always been a “glass half full” type of person & I remained positive however, gosh my emotions were off the scale. Surprisingly, there were very few tears and I didn’t ever wonder “why me”? Although my anger & frustration hit great heights following surgery & I lost a few friends in the early days!! Sadly, those friends were unable to give me the benefit of the doubt & I can only assume that they interpreted my behaviour as inappropriate & malicious. However, after researching the common emotional reactions to a cancer diagnosis, anger is often one of the first emotional responses. Hence to say, my feelings of guilt were short-lived. I had far more important things to focus on rather than the loss of a few friends!
My first session of Chemotherapy was scheduled for Tuesday 10th April 2018 at Worcester Royal Hospital. I spoke to a friend about what to expect from chemotherapy & how to manage the side effects. I was advised that I would receive 6 treatments every 3 weeks & I decided to record each appointment on my calendar. My final treatment was scheduled for Tuesday 24th July – I had a goal and a date to focus on.
I was advised that I would lose my hair during chemotherapy treatment & I therefore arranged for a consultation with a wig specialist. In the meantime I researched about hair loss & read about the Paxman Scalp Cooling System.
I attended the appointment at the Wig Specialist however, I was dreading the experience and so my daughter & my sister accompanied me to the appointment. The fitters were friendly & knowledgeable; the experience was not a horrendous occasion & I left the wig specialist wearing my “new style”.
I was advised that, during the scalp cooling process, it was necessary to apply conditioner to my hair and scalp prior to the application of the cap. Even though I was told that I could use any shampoo & conditioner during treatment, I decided to purchase shampoo and conditioner from Paxman prior to my treatment.
A day before my Chemotherapy treatment commenced, I decided to opt for a Grade 8 with the clippers in case I did lose all of my hair!!! My hair had been long prior to diagnosis & during the weeks leading up to treatment, I had visited my hairdresser on numerous occasions; first it was a bob and then it was a shorter style. I decided however, that to give myself the best chance of retaining my hair, I would have a really short pixie cut. Paul & the boys gave me a “trim” in the kitchen with the clippers & I have to admit, I really liked my new style! I will say that I’ve always wanted to shave my head however, I have never been brave enough. I can now say that I’ve ticked that box!
I am a firm believer in No pain – No gain. I knew that the Paxman experience wasn’t going to be a pleasant one however, I had decided that I was going to give it a try. I had read the Paxman Scalp Cooling Guide & I have to admit, they weren’t lying when they said that initially, there would be a feeling of intense discomfort or pain. The first 15 to 20 minutes were painful & as soon as the cooling system was switched on, the pain was instant. Whilst acclimatising to the cold, I was unable to speak to anyone. I closed my eyes, shook my leg & my sister passed me sweets. I had purchased the sourest sweets imaginable! And believe it or not, as they were so sour, I was able to concentrate on the sweets which eased the feeling of pain in my head! I’m sure this wouldn’t work for everyone – but it was definitely my coping mechanism! (I will say that the sight of the sweets in the supermarket makes me feel nauseous now!!)
When using the scalp cooling treatment you have to be really proactive. It’s you who has to endure the pain & you have to speak up if you don’t feel that the cap has been fitted correctly or if you feel that the cap hasn’t been tightened sufficiently. Prior to my first treatment, I discussed my fears with my sister & she ensured that she was by my side when the application took place. I felt more at ease knowing that she was “on the case” to ensure that the cap was fitted correctly. I felt very light headed during treatment & had a headache for a number of hours following treatment. When the cap was removed, my head was covered in ice!
Following treatment on a Tuesday, as I spent the next few days in bed, I slept in a cotton sleep cap & I refrained from washing my hair until the Saturday morning. During chemotherapy I treated my hair with the Paxman shampoo & conditioner & although I did experience some hair loss, my family & friends didn’t seem to notice. Even though at each treatment, I experienced the initial feeling of intense pain, I persevered with the scalp cooling process & bizarrely enough, my hair actually grew during treatment. Retaining my hair gave me such a confidence boost & I never had to wear my wig. During treatment I took up the position of Examinations Invigilator at a local school & to have my hair, was amazing – I was able to walk amongst the students with confidence.
Following chemotherapy, I underwent radiotherapy & I am still receiving Herceptin injections & daily meds – so treatment continues! However, I am turning the page on the last chapter & with hair, this has been made far easier for me. I don’t have to wait months & months to face the outside world with confidence again.
I fully appreciate that scalp cooling is dependent on many factors however, I consider myself very lucky & I would recommend scalp cooling to others – 100%. What disappointed me most during treatment was that very few people receiving chemotherapy treatment at the same time as me opted to use the scalp cooling – such a shame when the equipment was available to them.
"Obviously the scalp cooling process increases the length of time that you have to spend in oncology however, in my opinion, it was well worth it. I was able to “live” my life whilst undergoing treatment; I felt “normal” & retaining my hair enabled me to remain confident & positive. My glass has remained “half full” throughout this “Journey”."