“It’s just a part of your identity,” said Pendleton-area cancer survivor Gay Doss. “As it comes out, it just kind of hits you… Your hair is your identity. When you don’t have that, it’s hard.”
That’s where an alternative therapy known as the cold cap comes in, and local hair stylist and owner of Anderson’s Medusa Hair Salon Stacie Leons-Parnell is on a mission to make sure it’s available to those who want it.
The cold cap is precisely what the name implies. The cap is frozen to a very cold temperature and worn by the chemo patient to cool the scalp. The idea is to cool the hair follicles so that chemotherapy toxins can’t reach them, and the patient keeps their hair. The therapy involves switching out several caps to maintain the cold temperature.
The Rapunzel Project, a nonprofit organization devoted to raising awareness of this option, notes that the caps have been in use in Europe for more than 15 years with good results. Nancy Marshall, co-founder of The Rapunzel Project, said that the caps, based on feedback they have received, are highly effective. “It works almost all the time.”
“It’s empowerment. It’s having control over something at a time when you don’t have a lot of control. It’s privacy,” said Marshall. Additionally, she said, for some,“If you don’t look sick, you don’t feel sick.”
In the United States, however, the option has still not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. As a consequence, patients remain unaware of it and it is usually not covered by insurance. Cap rental runs about $1,600 over a three-month period. Still, the caps, particularly a brand known as Penguin Cold Caps, are being put to use.