Location: Cheltenham, UK
Cancer type: Breast
Drug type: FEC, Taxol
Hair type: Thick
"The system seemed to be fairly new into Cheltenham but the nurses were very clear on how the cap should fit and how I should care for my hair; they seemed to be very well informed."
I was diagnosed in December 2017, just before Christmas and just before we got snowed in for a week. I am active and healthy, I’m only 37 and there is no recent history of breast cancer in my family.
I found a small, hard lump in my left breast and had some pain in my armpit and felt a small swelling; I knew that I had to do something at this point. My husband immediately booked me an appointment with a private breast surgeon at the Nuffield in Cheltenham for the following day and took leave from work. I don’t think that either of us got any sleep that night.
I had a mammogram, which was a little uncomfortable but nothing awful, followed by an ultrasound examination. I knew it wasn’t good news when my surgeon stopped the ultrasound and told me that he wanted to do a biopsy. I asked him if it was precautionary or if it was cancer. He told me that he was certain that it was cancer. It sounds like a cliche, but the world seemed to stop; my only thought was for Filly, my longed for and dearly loved baby and best friend; she needs me and I need her, I don’t want her to grow up without a mummy. My next thought was how the f**k am I going to tell my family, we are so close this will break their hearts. However you think you will react is not necessarily the case, I didn’t cry, I didn’t throw up, I just asked to carry on with the biopsy.
The surgeon was very straight-talking but also kind and told me that he couldn’t tell what stage it was at, but that it had spread to my lymph nodes. He advised that a PET Scan would be the only way to understand the extent of the cancer, which was scheduled for the following week.
When we got home I sat down to telephone my parents. It was the worst conversation I’ve ever had. They phoned back a couple of times that evening, each time with more tears and questions. My husband and I didn’t mention it again until Filly had gone to bed. That evening we sat together on the sofa and cried for all of the plans we had been making, all of the future we thought we had was now hanging in the balance.
The wait for the PET scan results was the longest wait of my life (and Filly was almost 3 weeks late to be born!). We eventually got the call to say that my results were ready. We made our way to see the consultant and didn’t speak a word to each other on the journey or in the waiting room. I saw the consultant coming towards us and he was smiling, he put his arm around me and whispered in my ear ‘it hasn’t spread’. I almost fell to the floor, it was such good news. The surgeon went on the tell us that my cancer was stage 2 and that it had been seen in some axillary (underarm) lymph nodes and that I would now be referred back to the NHS to start chemo and then surgery.
I felt I had been given a chance and now was the time to think positive and to do exactly what I could to help the doctors give this cancer the boot. That was the day that my cancer was given its eviction notice; no fighting, no battle, it’s just time to leave now, quietly and without fuss.
I began treatment in early January 2018 at Cheltenham oncology centre. I was told about Scalp cooling by one of the nurses in Cheltenham when I went for my first blood test prior to my first chemo. Unfortunately my consultant didn’t mention it, I have asked him to tell his patients about it in the future. The system seemed to be fairly new into Cheltenham but the nurses were very clear on how the cap should fit and how I should care for my hair; they seemed to be very well informed.
The process to ensure that the cap fitted correctly was fairly lengthy and I tried a few caps on to ensure that the cap had a tight fit. Before the cap was fitted for treatment the nurses wet my hair and applied my organic conditioner, it then took 2 nurses to fit the cap correctly. Once I had my cannula in the team switched on the cooling machine and I could instantly feel the coolant in the cap starting to freeze as the cap became tighter on my head. For around 15 minutes my head felt cold and I felt slightly uncomfortable – I had a slight headache, similar to when I’ve eaten ice cream too quickly.
That feeling soon passed and other than being able to feel the chin strap, which was fairly tight to keep the cap close to my head I forgot that I had the cap on. The scalp cooling became easier with each treatment, the process to ensure that the cap fitted correctly didn’t get any quicker, and for that I am grateful. I took 2 paracetamol about 20 minutes before each treatment, although I can’t say that I felt any pain during any session. I found that having a scarf around my neck helped when I felt cold, although I certainly didn’t feel too cold at any point.
For the first 3 chemo treatments, FEC, I noticed very little hair loss at all; during the final 3, Taxol, treatments I did see some hair loss. The hair loss was mainly when I washed my hair and though there was never enough for it to be noticed, there was enough to make me feel nervous. I have been told that it’s almost impossible to tell that I’ve lost any hair at all, I was lucky that my hair was thick to begin with. I would say that my hair has thinned by about 20%, but thankfully the thinning was all over so I had no patches at all – it just goes to show how important the cap fit is. I bought a wig, just in case, but it has remained in its box!
I washed my hair in organic shampoo with a small amount of conditioner on the ends twice a week, I used cool water, which wasn’t pleasant in the depths of winter, but was worthwhile. In between washes, I only gently combed my hair once a day and I used dry shampoo to add a bit of volume when it needed a wash. I tried not to use my hairdryer, but when necessary I used it only on a cool setting. I continued to be very gentle with my hair for 5 weeks following my last chemo. Since then I have had a haircut, which was wonderful, and although I continue to use organic hair products I have started using my hairdryer and hair straighteners again.
"I would definitely recommend the Paxman Scalp Cooling System! Keeping my hair saved a little of my sanity and ensured that my 2 year old daughter didn’t have to understand that her mummy was poorly - for that I will be eternally grateful. Not having to wear my diagnosis, was and continues to be a blessing."