Location: London, UK
Cancer type: Breast
Drug type: AC, Docetaxel, Herceptin
Hair type: Long
"The thing I was most distraught about was losing my hair. It wasn’t necessarily even looking odd during the weeks of chemotherapy, it was the prospect of having to wait years before I looked like myself again, before I could look in the mirror and not see cancer."
My name is Roisin, I’ve just turned 27 (was diagnosed and had chemo at 26). I live in London but I’m from Belfast, and I’m a journalist.
I was first diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer in February 2018, only about a week after I felt a lump in my breast. For those first few weeks everything was a bit of a whirlwind — I had to undergo IVF treatment while setting myself up for 24 weeks of chemotherapy and then surgery, radiotherapy and years of targeted/hormone therapy to follow. The thing I was most distraught about was losing my hair. It wasn’t necessarily even looking odd during the weeks of chemotherapy, it was the prospect of having to wait years before I looked like myself again, before I could look in the mirror and not see cancer. I was determined to cold-cap immediately and honestly saw it as a lifeline as soon as it was mentioned by my breast care nurse.
My chemotherapy began on 3rd April at St Barts hospital in central London. I had 4 sessions of AC chemo and 4 sessions of Docetaxel with Herceptin, administered every three weeks. I finished chemo on 28th August.
I found out about Paxman through a combination of an offhand comment by my Breast Care Nurse and frantic Googling in the run up to treatment. I also joined a FB group (which I mention at length in the Outline piece) which really helped with tips and tricks and details of how to look after my hair and support from other women who were going through the same thing.
The first time I used to cold cap, I’m not gonna lie, it hurt. In the first 10 minutes I panicked that I wasn’t going to be able to do it, but my boyfriend convinced me to persevere and I can’t explain how glad I am that I did. After the first 10 minutes the pain subsided and I could barely feel it for the rest of the treatment session. I also bought Paxman shampoo and conditioner and washed my hair in cold water with this once a week. I eventually got used to how I wanted the cap to fit and the discomfort at the start of each session — as treatment went on the fact I still had a full head of hair was all the motivation I needed.
The Facebook group I mentioned above was probably the most helpful resource I had during chemo. I also contacted Paxman directly halfway through to ask some questions and found that really helpful. I would say that I wish scalp cooling was much more encouraged by hospitals and clinical care teams — as my treatment progressed I found that my team were shocked at my hair and that many people I came across didn’t even know that cold capping existed. And at the beginning of my journey there was lots of “this might not work” which made me feel quite miserable but also determined to prove them wrong. I also wish that this was available in Northern Ireland — where I am from — as I’ve had people reach out to me back home really upset about losing their hair with no cold-capping facilities to help them.
I still shed a little post-chemo (and I think there should be more awareness of this aspect of scalp cooling, as a few women I’ve met online have assumed your last day of chemo is when the regime ends, have reverted to hot water/gone swimming in chlorine really soon after treatment and lost the hair they were trying so hard for so long to save). But I am experiencing regrowth already and I estimate that I kept about 70% of my hair. I experienced thinning, particularly on the crown, but my hair is really dark and I used Toppik to fill in any gaps, so nobody ever noticed but me.
I didn’t like my scalp to get hot as I felt this would help with retention, so I wore a hat (a heat reflective loose baseball cap) throughout treatment in the hottest bloody summer in recent memory (brilliant). I also had a wig through the NHS but I never used it once.
I slept on a silk pillowcase to reduce tangles throughout chemo, and I only combed my hair once a week, with a wide tooth comb on the day I washed it. I used Paxman shampoo and conditioner with an apple cider vinegar rinse whenever I experienced any scalp build up or itching. I wore my hair in a loose plait most days, never used a hair dryer and always washed in cold water. I intend to keep up the same regimen until about 3-4 months after chemo. I also take hair growth supplements now chemo has ended to help speed up regrowth.
I feel like Paxman gets a really bad rap online. Either people don’t know about it at all, or they know about scalp cooling but are only familiar with older, manual models which they feel are superior purely because there are more testimonials about them. But I am so so happy with my Paxman experience and I’m constantly telling other people undergoing chemo to try it. It saved my hair, saved my sanity and let me go through treatment working full time and looking like myself. I really wasn’t feeling that head scarf look, you know?
I would 100% recommend scalp cooling to others.
"I am so so happy with my Paxman experience and I’m constantly telling other people undergoing chemo to try it. It saved my hair, saved my sanity and let me go through treatment working full time and looking like myself."