Tuesday 25 February 2014

A Cold Cap

I'm not scared of spiders, nor would I jump on a chair if I saw a mouse. In truth I have few phobias, save for birds trapped in kitchens but I blame that on the cat - RIP Gismo. Not that I ever witnessed the squalls and spitting feathers for more than a few seconds, you understand, before slamming the door behind me and yelling to my beleaguered mother to come and eradicate the irate bird from the scene.

But a demented bird is about it for phobias for me. Apart from the biggy. Apart from The Cold.

Cold fingers and toes have driven me to tears on several occasions. I'd like to say that I have Raynaud's Disease but can't actually claim it to be proven. Although I do know that however many pairs of gloves I wear when I walk, however many layers of Woollie Boolie socks and shoe covers I wear when I cycle, my extremities are always colder and whiter than everyone else's.

This fear of the cold invades my rational thought, sending messages to my brain when my ankles are lapped with cold water, that this is a dangerous situation, that I should evacuate immediately, when the rest of my family and friends are bathing merrily, seemingly oblivious to the potential for the hideous effects of Ice Cream Head which threaten us all.

So why am I talking about the cold?

It's no secret that most people who undergo chemotherapy for breast cancer lose at least some of their hair. I have long hair and confess that the thought of being bald distresses me slightly less than the prospect of finding large clumps of matted, curly hair all over the carpet, in my hands after combing, in the sink and, horror of horrors, on my pillow.

Even the most beautiful of wigs can't prevent the hair loss on the pillow.

When you're diagnosed with cancer, it's terrifying. However, several practices quickly kick into play which help to make it more bearable. One of these practices is the allocation of a key worker, a nurse specially trained in cancer care assigned to be your first point of contact throughout treatment. When I realised that the nurse who'd helped to break the news to me and my husband was going to be with us on every step of this bumpy cancer route, I could have jumped up and hugged her. She was so calm, so comforting, so knowledgeable that I started to feel that we'd be alright after all.

My key worker mentioned the Cold Cap. It's a tool which may - 'may' being the operative word - prevent hair loss as a result of chemotherapy. The process involves freezing the hair follicles while chemotherapy is administered. The patient often sits in warm blankets and gloves and is advised to take pain killers before the cap is applied but nonetheless, the process isn't for the faint-hearted

Did I mention I don’t like the cold, my pathological fear of Ice Cream Head? 

Cooling Cap, thanks to Macmillan Cancer Support for the picture
When I heard the invention described as a 'cap' I imagined it to be a peaked affair with 'New Yorkers' on the front and ice pads pushed discreetly under the rim. Oh no. The cap in our Cold Cap would appear to be more like the tight fitting lady's swimming cap, a la turn of the last century capable of administering temperatures of minus 30 degrees to the hair follicles all around the head. 

So, I ask my nurse, what does it actually feel like to wear a Cold Cap? 

Well, she says, I've heard that it's like the worst tooth ache but in your head.


But that only lasts for the first 15 to 20 minutes, after that the head just feels numb.

OK. That doesn't sound too pleasant either.

This is how hats should be - warm.
 The other down side to the Cold Cap is that it has to be worn either side of treatment so that the hair follicles are frozen for the entire time the drugs are travelling around the blood. A typical one hour course of chemotherapy can thus take three to four hours. Do I really want each session to last the morning when I could be in and out of hospital and getting on with my day? You also can't hear and thus talk to others while you're wearing the Cold Cap which is something which doesn't come very easily to me.

But perhaps a little time and a lot of discomfort is worth it for the chance to keep your hair, to keep your sanity, to stop yourself ageing twenty years over night and to prevent the ghastly clumps of hair on the pillow?

Perhaps. I change my mind daily.

I looked at the stats. Does it really work? I've scoured Mr Google and respected cancer charity forums and find success rates ranging from 20% to 75% with the odd site claiming even higher successes based on the type of chemotherapy. It's undisputed that the Cold Cap has some success in preventing hair loss entirely and, more commonly, in decreasing the amount of hair which goes. Unfortunately research doesn't tell us which hair the Cold Cap chooses to save. The advice is to have a wig in reserve and the National Health are kind enough to contribute to that.

Thus I went wig shopping with my children last week. I had hoped we'd spend a few hours trying out outrageous wigs on each other, my teenage fashion Aficionados stating categorically which wigs I could and couldn’t carry off. Unfortunately it was a little more sombre than that and they were only allowed to advise. That said, we were unanimous on the decision and I'm excited about the potential new me which emerged from the appointment. But no clues as to the style of wig - even my hubbie hasn't seen it yet.

So, after musing over it for weeks, researching the hard facts and attempting to brush phobias aside, will I be using the Cold Cap?

Absolutely not.

But you might want to ask me again tomorrow.

Friday 14 February 2014

Unrequited devotion to duty

I will admit to not having done a great deal of work of late. It's really difficult to fit it all in around the operations, recuperations, appointments – ahem - trips to coffee shops, trips online… so was delighted to receive my copies of the January / February edition of Chase Magazine and see that I could still occasionally manage to put a few words on paper.

I'm talking about Dear Thing by Julie Cohen and Crossing The Line by Christian Plowman in this edition. 

I only write about books which have blown me away and which I desperately want other people to read. And these two are no exception. The subject matter, surrogacy, is what drove me to Cohen's novel but once in, I found it was as much a story of unrequited love as making babies - an unexpected extra dimension which was joyously painful to read.

The second, Crossing The Line, is an auto-biographical view of life as an undercover detective. It's a theme which wouldn't normally jump out at me but once it had become clear that I'd read the entire first chapter in Waterstones, I felt compelled to buy it. Plowman's story is certainly gripping, powerful and, I admit, quite entertaining (even if I did feel a little voyeuristic in my fascination of the dirty underworld Plowman frequented) but it was also overtly sad and it was the human cost to Plowman which really had me fascinated. 

Please click here to pop over to Chase to read more (pages 50/51).

How's my new companion, cancer today? Well, I'm one step closer to booting the gate-crasher from the party. Last week I had my second official operation (third if you count the unexpected extra one to clear up the burst artery) and I'm back and fighting and just hoping we can finally get on with chemotherapy soon. It's funny the world you enter when you find out you have cancer, when you start wishing things like chemotherapy upon yourself. But the sooner we crack on with it, the sooner we can start talking about cancer in the past tense. Next post I'll tell you about the wig buying trip with my children. If you ask me nicely, I may even include photos.