How to survive the “Cold cap”

I have always had very fine hair, and there’s never been much of it, so when I received my breast cancer diagnosis I immediately worried that what little hair I had would soon disappear. My oncologist mentioned that ‘the cold cap’ could help with this, when she went through a seemingly endless list of side effects to the chemotherapy.

Ever Miss Practicality, I decided if my hair was going to fall out, I didn’t want to see long clumps of it! Thanks to lockdown my neighbour, with the aid of YouTube, cut my hair short! It was the first bold step of many I would take on my cancer journey.

The chemo nurses advised me that if I used the cold cap, I was unlikely to go bald. “Take paracetamol 20 minutes before you start and try it,” they said. “If it’s too much, you can just stop.”

So I came home and started googling. I was looking for ways to how to survive the cold cap, big freeze, and I read that one should meditate or read a book to take one’s mind off it. So off I set armed with a meditation on the calm app, my Kindle and my warm wrap.

I was lucky: the first time I went to the chemo ward, I watched an older lady brave the freeze, and then and there I made up my mind, if she can do it so can I! Like so much of this cancer journey it’s your mind that needs to be strong.

The big freeze hits ..

The cold cap was on for two hours. The first 20 minutes are the worst, as it’s the shock of the freeze, and after that it gets easier. Nonetheless, for the final 30 minutes I was always checking the clock to see when I could unplug the machine.   

The meditation and the book were a total bust; I would need some time with Wim Hof to continue down that route. My years of winter running, ignorance and some rock music got me through round 1.

Try again…

From round 2 on, I watched a gripping movie that didn’t require me to think, drank a cup of coffee as I began, wrapped a shawl round myself and crossed each round off the list. The time ticked away a lot quicker, but by round 5 I was really tired and I could feel the cold more. The nurse suggested I stop the cold cap! As I had lost a lot on top of my head and we needed to use a cap to buffer my bald patches, but I didn’t want to lose all my hair six weeks before the end. I could do this!Just two more to go! I rewarded myself by starting to take vitamins to promote hair growth after this round.

Mind over matter..

I made it through the six rounds with quite a few strands of hair left, apart from a patch that could easily be covered with a wide headband. I did not go completely bald. Four weeks post-chemo my hair started sprouting. Ironically, my hair seems thicker now, but the growth is agonisingly slow. I am one year post-chemo and hopefully by Christmas I’ll have the beginnings of a short bob hairstyle.

Sheer determination and mind over matter is what got me through those six big freezes !