It’s not approved by the government yet, but it’s being tested by a cancer patient in Mesa.
After weeks of chemo, she still has all of her hair.
When people are told they have cancer, it’s traumatizing enough and losing your hair to chemo is usually a cold hard fact. But we talked to a woman going through chemo right now, but you’d never know it by looking at her.
A little over four months ago, Karen Gulbrandsen was in a hospital, holding her new grandchild when she got a call from her doctor.
“I got the phone call and yeah, I was shocked,” she said. “I had tested positive and I had cancer.”
Karen, a mother of 6 and grandmother of 9, had breast cancer. The good news: it was caught early and could be treated with a mastectomy and chemotherapy.
Karen dealt with the diagnosis, but dreaded the side effects.
“I really didn’t want to lose my hair. I didn’t want people to treat me like I was a victim and to look at me like I was a victim.”
Karen and Rich, her husband of 36 years, heard about something called the Penguin Cold Cap. It’s basically an ice-pack chilled to -30° below that fits over Karen’s head before, during and after chemo sessions.
“And the idea is we’ve gotta keep the cold and the gel up against her scalp,” said Rich.
The principle behind the cold cap is to protect the hair follicles from chemotherapy drugs.
“The first five minutes — you’re kind of white knuckling. But then you become numb and then it’s cold,” said Karen.
“You’re nervous because the science is terrific. It constricts the blood vessels, chemo doesn’t reach the hair follicles — that’s great. But how do I know I’ve got it exactly where I ought to have it,” said Rich.
The Penguin Cold Caps are not yet FDA approved and it costs about $500 a month to rent them, but the Gulbrandsens say it’s all been worth it.
“Attitude, I think is everything with the healing. And the reality is that Karen has this wonderful attitude — I think being able to keep her hair.. yeah, it helps. It helps her in that process,” said Rich.
Karen has gone through five rounds of chemotherapy and has one more to go. She says she decided to share her story with us to let cancer patients know there are options out there.