When Shelley Cain, 38, was diagnosed with breast cancer, her world was turned upside-down. Apart from the devastating blow of being diagnosed with a life-threatening disease, she had to come to terms with the possibility of suffering a common side effect of chemotherapy treatment – hair loss.
Her two young children – Ollie, 6, and Ruby, 10 – were inconsolable after hearing the news, having recently lost a close family friend due to cancer. Ruby begged for her mother to not lose her hair, which prompted Shelley to undergo gruelling cold cap treatment.
Preventing hair loss with cold cap treatment
The HR worker underwent a regime of cold cap sessions throughout her course of chemotherapy. The process was physically demanding, often leaving blocks of ice on her head. Shelley underwent three-hour sessions of the treatment, and doctors made it clear to her that treatment was not always successful. However, Shelley persevered out of love for her children.
Shelley, who is now in remission, says, “I screamed for the cancer nurse to remove the cap when she first put it on as it was unbearably cold and painful. But I was so determined to stay looking well for my kids, it got me through the pain.
“I didn’t want to scare my children by looking ill and losing my hair. I wanted them to recognise their mummy and not be frightened by my appearance.”
Shelley now says that her focus on keeping her hair helped keep her sane throughout the process. She said: “It wasn’t easy, but I think it was psychosomatic.
“If I looked in the mirror and recognised myself then I didn’t feel like a cancer patient, it helped me beat the cancer.”
How do cold caps work?
Each hair on the head grows from hair follicles. Healthy hair follicles require a steady flow of food and oxygen in order to survive. However, when someone undergoes cancer treatment, chemotherapy drugs in the bloodstream can be carried to the hair follicles, resulting in hair loss.
Cold caps work by narrowing the blood vessels in the scalp, so that less of the chemotherapy drugs reach the hair follicles. In this way, hair loss is prevented.
It’s important to note that cold caps won’t work for hair conditions such as Alopecia. This is because people with conditions like Alopecia require a consistent, healthy flow of blood to the scalp to encourage hair re-growth. Using a cooling cap will actually have a damaging effect if used by someone with Alopecia, so it’s important to speak to a hair loss expert to confirm the best course of treatment for your individual hair loss condition.