A Team Effort: Family and Cancer Centers Can Provide Important Support During Scalp Cooling

February 17, 2020

Hi! My name is Kelly Burkman. I was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer at age 39 in March 2017. My diagnosis came without warning following my first ever mammogram. As a working single mother of three children, my life depends on routine and predictability, but I quickly learned that cancer is anything but routine and predictable!

During initial meetings with my surgeon and oncologist to develop a treatment plan, a nurse shared information with me about cold caps. Lucky for me, the hospital where I was receiving treatment had received a grant to provide cold caps free of charge to breast cancer patients. Basically, it was a trial program started to evaluate the effectiveness of cold caps and determine if the hospital would make a long-term investment in cold capping. I had never heard about scalp cooling and was amazed at the results described in the literature.

On my end, I was required to read through information about cold capping, watch a video, and make a verbal promise to follow the protocol. After reading through tons of information about scalp cooling, I realized that the commitment to save my hair was going to be a team effort. My mother and aunt agreed to be my assistants and the three of us made the promise to give cold capping our best effort. During treatments I had to change caps every twenty minutes, pulling a cold one from a cooler of dry ice. When time came to swap, my mom handled the ice and my aunt worked on securing the straps on the cold caps. I jokingly gave them the nicknames “icy” and “strappy” on infusion days. Scalp cooling is not comfortable by any means, but the discomfort is temporary and the visual results are motivation enough to keep plugging along.

Aside from marveling at the amount of hair on my head at my monthly check-ups, my team of doctors was not a part of my cold capping adventure. The nurse that originally introduced me to cold caps and applied for the grant at the hospital, checked in with me during each infusion and made sure that I was following proper procedures. I was directed to contact the cold capping company for specific questions.

While I never had a bald head, I did lose a significant amount of hair — mainly on the sides of my head. At the end of my six infusions, I was left with an awkward mullet-type hairstyle. I got a short haircut gave me some style. The majority of people that I encountered during my 4 months of cancer treatment never knew that I had cancer. As my oncologist told me, cold cappers do lose the sympathy vote in some ways. Although I was never bald, after a few months the straight hair that I lost returned in the form of beautiful curls.

In the face of so much uncertainty, cold capping was a very cold distraction from the reality of chemotherapy treatments. Things like the maxi pad that I had to wear on my forehead to protect my skin, the large cooler that I carted around the infusion lab, and the strap under my chin that made it difficult to speak provided some comic relief during the scariest days of my life. I will forever be thankful for the nurse that applied for the grant and encouraged me to try scalp cooling. I will also always appreciate the time my mom and aunt spent with me to help save my hair. While I could not control my diagnosis or the unpredictability that cancer brought to my life, cold capping enabled me to focus my efforts on controlling one side effect of cancer treatment that allowed me to hang on to a bit of normal.

Kelly Burkman was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer in March 2017. 

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