My name is Howard and I’m a Diagnostic Radiologist now for over 30 years. My specialty is body imaging, which is oncology imaging for CT, MRI and PET scans. I have helped multiple patients over the years with my job and have many cancer survivor friends, as I have been doing charity work with cancer survivors for a number of years. I never expected to end up on the other side of the glass (as imagers we have lead-lined glass to keep radiation away from the health care providers. Now I’m on the other side which is a lot less fun).
I have always thought of myself as healthy with normal labs and blood pressure. However, in February 2018 while eating at a family event I experienced terrible pain in my upper abdomen. It soon subsided and was difficult to reproduce. I also started experiencing some difficulty in drinking quickly and eating larger quantities of food. I blamed it on age, esophageal dysmotility, GE reflux, gastritis or my heartburn meds. After several months of not improving, I saw a GI doctor, who recommended upper endoscopy. My first endoscopy showed what he thought was severe gastritis, however, follow-up studies showed gastric cancer which was infiltrating throughout my stomach (linitis plastica). I started treatment this year which consisted of 4 rounds of chemo, then I had my whole stomach removed, and then 4 more rounds of chemo. Luckily, I am now in remission and doing well!
Before I started chemo, a cancer survivor friend mentioned DigniCap to me. My oncologist said that they had the machine so I tried it out. I had all of my chemo at Florida Cancer Specialists. They charge $400 for each treatment. Doing simple math, one can see it’s not cheap for 8 rounds, but I did it for all 8. The DigniCap or head freezing, as I call it, is not a fun experience. My chemo sessions were long, so I had to wear the DigniCap for 7 hours! Having my head near freezing for that long is quite miserable, but it got better with time, as with later chemo sessions I was given IV Benadryl which knocked me out. However, as DigniCap worked, I used it each time. The first 4 rounds I lost minimal head hair, the second 4 rounds I did have some hair loss and thinning, which may be due to the fact my chemo was changed. The pic I attached is my hair after 8 rounds of chemo, taken last week and I had a haircut in May.
For a semi-old dude, I have a lot of hair on my head. I have very little body hair and now I have almost none after the chemo. My white hair is my trademark and makes me very recognizable by friends and others. So, for me keeping my hair was very important. I already feel crappy from the chemo, have trouble eating without a stomach, have a port and a feeding tube; so, I well know, that I have cancer. So, me being bald on top of that would not be psychologically good for me.
I feel as a physician that DigniCap, should be much more affordable and/or covered by insurance, as it is more than just cosmetic. Again, if I did not have my hair, my self-image, which already has taken a beating from the cancer and the subsequent therapy, would have been much worse. Keeping my hair has given me a sense of normality during one of the worst experiences of my life.
Cancer is a crappy experience for anyone to go thru. I have actually done quite well and worked during my whole treatment except I took off 4 weeks for surgery. As I kept my hair and have a feeding tube to keep my weight up, most people had not idea I had cancer. In fact, as I let my hair go natural, which is curly for me, over the last few weeks I have gotten at least 5 compliments on how wonderful my hair looks. I am probably the only person in cancer history to get compliments on their hair during chemo!!!
I’ve blabbed enough for now. Anyway, if I can help others keep their hair and thus some sense of dignity and self-esteem during their cancer experience, I would be happy to do so!
– Howard, Florida