When Carolyn Attwood was facing chemotherapy following a breast cancer diagnosis in 2016, one of her first questions was whether she would lose her hair.
“I was devastated when I was told I would,” she recalled.
“Hair is a sign of health and life and normalcy. I loved my hair. It was really long and losing it made me feel like people would stare at me in the street, and that my friends, family and co-workers wouldn’t see a bright, confident person anymore—just a weak, sick person.”
Carolyn, then 34, underwent surgery to remove her breast and lymph nodes at Mater Private Hospital Springfield—where she also works as a bookings officer—and prepared herself for five rounds of chemotherapy.
Fortunately, there was some good news.
She was offered the chance to use a Paxman scalp cooling system during her chemotherapy sessions, potentially reducing the risk of hair loss. These caps reduce scalp temperature, reducing blood flow to the hair follicles and alleviating the damage that chemotherapy causes them.
“I was the first person at Mater Cancer Care Centre Springfield to use one. I was really excited to trial it because I wanted to work during my treatment and be as normal as possible.”
The mum of three wore the cap through each of her five rounds of chemotherapy, for about five hours each time. She describes the sensation as “absolutely freezing” for the first 15 minutes after the gel cap was placed on her head, and another cap secured on top with a chin strap. But after this initial period, Carolyn said she quickly acclimatised—and the results were wonderful.
“Instead of losing chunks of hair like you would with chemotherapy, I just lost some hair when I brushed it and I was able to save about 50 per cent of my hair. I was on very strong chemotherapy that would have absolutely rendered me bald without it, so the cap was really good.”
It wasn’t until the end of her treatment that Carolyn wore a beanie, but was able to still have her fringe and some hair showing. Importantly, her youngest child—aged five—did not notice any difference.
“I didn’t want to frighten him by looking sick or being bald. I was really worried about how he would react to that. So it was really nice to be able to cover that up. He just saw the same Mum.”
Funds raised through Dry July supported the purchase of the scalp cooling system. Carolyn encouraged people to take up this year’s Dry July challenge to fund a range of services for cancer patients at Mater.
“I’m so thankful to the people who took part last year as it resulted in these cooling caps. I hope more people go Dry this July so other patients can benefit during treatment and recovery.”
Carolyn’s hair has now grown back, her active cancer treatment is complete and she is looking forward to the future.
“For me, being able to keep some of my hair wasn’t a vanity issue, it was a dignity issue. It helped me so much emotionally and made me feel like I could carry on with my life, despite my cancer treatment.”