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‘I didn’t want to look like someone living with cancer’ - Woman explains how she coped with chemotherapy

PUBLISHED: 08:56 30 October 2018 | UPDATED: 11:14 30 October 2018

For many cancer sufferers, the idea of losing their hair during treatment feels devestating  Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

For many cancer sufferers, the idea of losing their hair during treatment feels devestating Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

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A breast cancer survivor explains how saving her hair during chemotherapy helped her.

“I didn’t want to lose my hair and look like someone living with cancer. I’m not a make-up kind of person but my hair is a massive part of my appearance.”

Carol Wall explained why she chose to use a scalp cooler to prevent her hair falling out while undergoing chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

Now the 58-year-old is encouraging others living with cancer to be aware of the option to keep their hair as part of am awareness campaign by breast cancer charity Walk the Walk.

Carol wore a cap attached to a scalp cooling machine before, during and after her chemotherapy.

The machine lowered the temperature of her scalp, therefore reducing blood flow to the hair follicles and protecting the follicles from the effects of the concentrated chemotherapy drugs in her blood stream.

Although Carol at times felt uncomfortable as the temperature plummeted on her scalp to minus 6 degrees, she still believes that it was worth it.

“It was the most positive part of my treatment, as it worked so well for me. I didn’t lose my sense of identity as I didn’t think I looked like I was going through cancer treatment. I’m convinced that I didn’t lose my eyebrows or eyelashes because I used the scalp cooler. I didn’t look ill (in my own opinion!), so I didn’t feel ill.”

“It wasn’t easy - I had to give myself a hard talking to for my last two rounds of chemotherapy, I didn’t want to wear the scalp cooler.”

As hair loss is not considered life-threatening, NHS funding for scalp coolers is not prioritised.

But Walk the Walk charity has donated grants from its midnight marathon MoonWalks to hospitals across the country to purchase 625 machines. Walk the Walk is best known for its MoonWalks where walkers take on midnight marathon challenges in London, Edinburgh and Iceland wearing brightly decorated bras.

Nina Barough CBE, Founder and Chief Executive of Walk the Walk said: “Losing your hair whilst having chemotherapy, is often the final straw for many cancer patients and can be completely debilitating. Over the past 12 years Walk the Walk has worked incredibly hard towards removing the postcode lottery that has meant in some areas, cancer patients were unable to receive the choice of this treatment. It has been very important to us that we grant Scalp Coolers to as many NHS Hospital Trusts throughout the U.K. as possible. We believe that everybody should have the choice of using one of these amazing machines.

Jo Richardson, Macmillan Lead Cancer Nurse, said:

“For many of the women and men we treat with chemotherapy, the prospect of losing their hair can be their greatest concern. For some patients having certain types of chemotherapy, hair loss can be prevented or at least be reduced, thanks to the scalp coolers we have been granted by Walk the Walk. Because of all the walkers who have put one foot in front of the other and taken part in a MoonWalk, many of our patients maintain their dignity, sense of control and wellbeing during an already difficult time.”

Sign up for the next MoonWalk London 2019, on Saturday 11th May, at www.walkthewalk.org

<Case Study>

Carol, 58, who used a scalp cooler when she was undergoing chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer, talks about how it made a difference to her.

It was back in November 2012, when I was 51, I felt a weird sensation in my right breast. I noticed a small lump, which I wasn’t too concerned about as I’d had a benign lump removed five years previously. I’d had a routine mammogram 18 months prior to this, but nothing was detected.

When I received the diagnosis that I had HR2 positive breast cancer I think I just took it on the chin, thought of my family and got on with it. I put all my faith in the professionals, followed their advice and dealt with it. One of the hardest things to cope with was telling my loved ones and trying to protect them from the shock of it, it often felt like it was me reassuring them that I’d be OK.

I had the most amazing support from my brilliant husband, my boys, their partners, and my friends. They treated me as normally as possible.

Shortly after my diagnosis, on 14 December, I had a lumpectomy. I went skiing two weeks later!

I then had six sessions of FEC chemotherapy every three weeks, which started mid-February, followed by four and half weeks of radiotherapy, five times a week which started in June. From September onwards I had 17 sessions of Herceptin, every 3 weeks.

My experience was the best I could have hoped for. Members of staff at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital were brilliant - so knowledgeable and caring at every stage of my treatment, and they encouraged me to try using a scalp cooler. I was always in awe of the nurses in the chemo ward - they made a fuss of every single patient and had a warm sense of humour.

My biggest worry about having chemotherapy treatment was being sick and losing my hair, however, thankfully, neither happened.

I called the scalp cooler a ‘donkey derby’ hat and was obsessed with it being tight so that it really got down to the roots. I ate a biscuit once, and couldn’t move my jaw it was so tight that it took about five minutes to eat. It is ridiculously cold and it makes me shudder, even five years on, if I feel cold on the back of my neck. It takes me back to sitting for a few hours at minus six degrees.

It was very time-consuming but was well worth it. I did feel guilty taking up a chair for a long time but the nurses convinced me that I was entitled to sit in the unit as it was vital part of my treatment even if I felt like I was just being vain.

However, looking back it was honestly so worth it.

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