I have been a hairdresser for 25 years. Hair is my passion – and my hair is my identity (I think most people feel the same way)! At my salon, Great Clips, we have a program called Clips of Kindness where we shave cancer patients’ hair at no cost in the event of hair loss from chemo. I provide this service to many women every year, so I personally know the devastating effect hair loss can have on a person battling cancer.
When I first discovered a lump on my chest, I dismissed it thinking it was a cyst. It came out of nowhere, and when I went to my doctor to have it checked they scheduled an immediate biopsy. On January 24th, 2017, I received the phone call no one wants to receive while at work. I will never forget hearing the words “your biopsy came back, and it’s breast cancer.” My heart sinking, I walked past all of my coworkers in a daze as I left work and called my husband in tears to tell him.
As soon as I got the news that I had triple positive breast cancer, I began researching and learning as much as I could about my diagnosis. I was terrified of the toxic effects of chemotherapy (long and short term) and of losing my hair. My son was nine years old at the time. He was very worried about his mom being bald and that his friends were going to notice and ask questions. Also, being a hairdresser and working with the public, I was concerned about having to explain my terrifying health troubles to complete strangers.
I researched scalp cooling but it wasn’t available at my local hospital. Then, I got a second opinion and entered into a clinical trial at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) for a chemo-free approach to treating my type of breast cancer, excited that I may not have to lose my hair.
However, before the trial ended, we found that the tumor was no longer responding to the treatment regimen. Unfortunately, when the pathology report came back, it was determined that I would need chemotherapy as there were still active invasive cancer cells in my tumor. I was back to square one and facing my two worst fears again. However, I soon found that CTCA not only had DigniCap available, but was also very positive about it. Without hesitation, I made the decision to do my chemotherapy at CTCA and use the scalp cooling system.
My family came together and as a Christmas gift helped me pay for it. Fortunately, my health insurance did eventually cover the cost of DigniCap. While I was receiving my last treatment, another patient told me that she received reimbursement from her insurance. She gave me the information and the necessary application form that she got from DigniCap. I had it filled out by my oncologist and submitted it to my insurance. I was told that it was a long shot that they would cover it. When it was, I was surprised and incredibly grateful.
I had great success with DigniCap, in part because I followed the strict recommended protocol with my hair: no styling products, no hair coloring, gentle combing, and limiting washing – gentle shampoo and conditioner only! In the end, I only lost approximately 10 percent of my hair.
I’m working hard to advocate the need for scalp cooling at my local hospital. I have shared my pictures and videos with my local oncologist, the patient navigator for the American Cancer Society, and anyone who wants to learn about DigniCap. It saved me from so much mental anguish: I could be mom to my son and feel normal out in public without the pity stares. My identity wasn’t taken away from me. When I went back to work, I had the choice whether or not to tell my clients why I was out of work for so long, rather than it being obvious by simply looking at me.
I believe this treatment should become standard at cancer centers for any patients who want it. DigniCap helped me get through one of the most difficult times in my life. I want more people to have this available to them to help take away some of the worry that comes with this horrible diagnosis. I really hope that doing my part in spreading the word about DigniCap will make a difference!
– Areka Phillips, Illinois