I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know much about breast cancer. However, what I do know is losing hair while battling breast cancer can be very emotional experience for any woman. Artic cold caps also known as cold cap therapy is now trying to change that for all women. Things really hit home when a close friend of mine, Halimah Muhammad, was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer earlier this year. Upon her diagnosis, like many women, she began researching everything she could to prevent losing her hair. When Halimah discovered cold cap therapy she brought it to my attention and of course I knew I wanted to share her story.
First what is cold cap therapy?
According to Cancer.org scalp hypothermia is cooling the scalp with ice packs or cooling caps (cold caps) for a period of time before, during, and after each chemotherapy (chemo) treatment to try to prevent or reduce hair loss. The caps are fitted to the head, helmet style with a gel coolant that is chilled as low as -15 to -45 degrees Fahrenheit.
The theory behind scalp hypothermia is that the cooling tightens up or constricts blood vessels in the scalp. This constriction is thought to reduce the amount of chemo that reaches the cells of the hair follicles. The cold also decreases the activity of the hair follicles and makes them less attractive to chemo, which targets rapidly dividing cells. This could reduce the effect of chemo on the follicle cells and, as a result, prevent or reduce hair loss from the scalp. – Cancer.org.
Textured Talk: How did you find out about the cooling cap process?
Halimah Muhammad: I just kept Googling “how to keep my hair during chemo”. I was not completely sold on using cold caps because I didn’t see any African American women on websites. I have natural hair didn’t know if it would work. I found a an African America woman on Instagram who used cold caps and it was successful for her. Once I found a woman with natural hair I decided to give it a try. The young lady explained I wouldn’t be able to do anything to my hair while using the caps. I really loved a nice crotchet hairstyle and sew ins. Maybe this was a sign for God that I no longer needed weave. Without even thinking twice about it I went ahead and loc my hair January 28,2017.
TT: What was your experience using the caps? Easy to use or difficult?
HM: Easy to use. I had to follow each step very carefully. It was made very clear that for the cold caps to work I had to follow the do’s and don’t. Everything you needed is in a kit. Every 20 minutes my mom, cousins, and friends were switching the cap. 8 caps came in the kit. I had to wear the cap 45 min before chemo. During pre-meds you start the first cold cap. And once chemo was over I had to wear it for 4 hours (again switching it every 20 mins).
TT: Does insurance cover the use of the caps? If not, is it expensive to pay out of pocket?
HM: No my insurance did not cover it. I had to pay $400 dollars a month to rent the cold caps. Luckily I found a program that covered $250 of the cost since I was Stage 3. Of course my mother helped me cover the cost as well.
TT: Are there any side effects to using the caps?
HM: Yes. Headaches are the main side effects. Since the cap was negative 32 degrees, I would use a heated blanket to stay warm. I started taking Tylenol before every treatment to help with headaches.
TT: How do you treat your natural hair while undergoing cold cap therapy and what are your favorite natural hair products?
HM: I am addicted to hair products. I used Wild Growth Hair Oil, Carol’s Daughter leave in conditioner and Jamaican Black Castor Oil. I didn’t wash my hair until 3 months after using the cold caps. I was very gentle when washing my hair and used lukewarm water to wash. My suggestion is to wait a few days after using the caps to see how your hair responds before shampooing. Being gentle is super important so I suggest waiting as long as you can. I did not put heat on my hair at all and did not blow dry or anything. Also I slept on satin pillowcases that came in the kit.
TT: What advice would you give to other women about how to deal with their breast cancer experience?
HM: Stay Positive. Your attitude will set the tone of your experience. Stay grateful through the bad days. Enjoy the good days. Spread love and smile everyday!
Halimah finished her last treatment with cold cap therapy on July 17, 2017. She lost about 10% of her hair, but mostly in the middle, which isn’t bad in my opinion. Some women decide to cut all of their hair off prior to any type of chemotherapy to avoid the emotional process of fall out.
If you’ve never heard of cold cap therapy you aren’t alone. In July 2017 the FDA cleared the expanded use of a cooling cap, DigniCap Cooling System, to reduce hair loss (alopecia) during chemotherapy. This is the first cooling cap cleared by the agency for use in cancer patients with solid tumors. The Rapunzel Project is also leading the way in awareness about cold cap therapy. Hopefully this development and sharing more stories will help women know there are options with taking care of their hair while fighting breast cancer. Please share this story with others.