Many people undergoing chemotherapy in the UK are completely unaware that scalp coolers exist let alone that they could help cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy to keep their hair. Losing your hair can be the final straw and can have a devastating impact not only on the patient but also their families, particularly children.
These amazing machines, developed by Glenn Paxman as a result of his own wife losing her hair through chemotherapy, are compatible with most chemotherapy drugs and have received some wonderful results. Many people have reported that their hair loss was so minimal that using the machines enabled them to 'just feel normal' whilst undergoing treatment.
We aim to put scalp coolers in hospitals throughout the UK, including training for staff and maintenance and as a result enable ALL cancer patients to have the equal opportunity and choice to receive a treatment that can make a beneficial difference to how well they manage their treatment.
Prior to receiving the chemotherapy drug, the scalp cooler (which consists of a lightweight silicone cap connected to a small refrigeration unit) is placed on the head. Ensuring the cap fits well, the machine reduces the temperature of the scalp creating a restriction in the amount of blood reaching the hair follicles. This protects the hair follicle from the effects of the concentrated chemotherapy drugs carried in the blood stream and increases the chance of retaining the hair. The cap continues to be worn during administration of the drugs and then for a calculated time afterwards. The total time the cap is worn ranges from 1½ hours up to 5 hours, with the average time being 2 to 2½ hours.
"Using the coolers and keeping my hair made my life normal, nobody needed to know that I had breast cancer unless I told them.I didn't want people looking at me and feeling sorry for me. Also my daughter who was 7 at the time didn't have to explain to her friends why her mummy had no hair, I just kept everything normal.It made a huge difference to the quality of life, I don't think I could have led a normal life or survived my chemotherapy ...its a life saver!"
Debra Wolfe, who completed her treatment in 2005
At present it is a real postcode lottery, not all hospitals have the equipment, so patients are not informed of the treatment. In some areas machines are available but not enough to offer all patents treatment, and in some cases the hospitals do not feel that it is an important part of treatment. The project is now entering its 8th year and to date we have placed 640 coolers in 275 hospitals throughout the UK. A detailed map can be found here
"Using scalp coolers ...it meant that I looked like me. I was determined to try it despite being warned that it may not be suitable. Hair loss was a huge issue for me. Apart from having a terrible diagnosis and embarking on a gruelling treatment, losing my hair would have been the final straw. The psychological impact of losing your hair is so underestimated, because I kept my hair, people didn't know I was going through cancer and often commented on how well I looked, which made me feel so positive. My quality of life was definitely enhanced.A positive image may seem trivial to some, but for me it really helped me to feel good about myself and more in control of my treatment."
"In April 2008 we were lucky enough to take delivery of 2 Paxman scalp coolers which were provided by Walk the Walk for use by patients undergoing chemotherapy in the Macmillan unit .Although we were already using Paxman coolers our machines were old and so to have 2 brand new ones without having to worry about the budget was a real boost for staff and patients alike . These machines are in daily use in our unit and without the new ones we would not have enough coolers on some days ! For patients to keep their hair is a real morale booster , especially to those struggling with body image at such a difficult time . One patient recently was anxious to keep her hair as she had a family wedding , she was thrilled to be able to achieve this thanks to using scalp cooling throughout her chemotherapy. The fact that your charity is also funding the maintenance of the machines and staff training is an additional bonus. All patients who would benefit from scalp cooling are offered the service at consultation and shown how the machines operate , they are also given a printed information sheet , and where possible the opportunity to speak to other patients who are using the service . I will ask some of the patients if they are willing to put their experiences on your website or to send email I sure that they would be happy to do this. Once again , our sincere thanks to all those concerned in supporting Walk the Walk!!"
Elaine Scott , sister ,chemotherapy outpatients , macmillan unit , Calderdale Royal Hospital Halifax.
"I'm doing well thanks - have just finished the chemo, so a massive cloud has lifted and I'm now detoxing/repairing as best I can before I start the Tamoxifen. My digestive system is in a bit of a state, but it will get better with time and I'm on really good nutritional plan to help with that. (with lots of L Glutamine and Vitamin C!) More importantly, I got to keep enough hair not to wear a wig, and that was mainly down to you and your team, so thank you VERY much for that! Keeping my hair allowed me to carry on working, almost as normal over the summer (I only had about 6 days off total because of the chemo) as it helped me to keep my self-confidence. I did feel odd/spaced out at work sometimes, but I just kept going, as you do. So, at the moment, if you hadn't known me before, you would never have guessed that I had been on chemo. My eyebrows are back already, so I hope my lashes and hair will start to grow again very soon. To me, my hair does look and feel a little odd and my fringe is little sparse, but I really can't complain. So - all in all, its a massive success story. Thanks again - I know it doesn't matter that much to some, but I couldn't really put a price on what keeping my hair has meant to me this year. Love, Debbie xxx"