Cold Caps help chemo patient wed with full head of hair

Cold Caps help bride-to-be keep hair while fighting breast cancer/Photo Courtesy: Tiffany Gilman

A self-breast exam led to an unexpected discovery for Tiffany Gilman.

“They told me it was breast cancer and that was really hard to hear at 31 years old,” she said.

After undergoing a lumpectomy, doctors recommended Gilman do chemotherapy. “I was getting married 6 months after I was diagnosed,” she said.

She was considering not even doing chemo because it causes hair loss for a majority of patients. “I really had not thought about being bald at my wedding,” Gilman said. “I don't think anybody wants to be bald at their wedding.”

She connected with the Breast Cancer Resource Center who introduced her to Patsy Graham. “They’ve shown that 8 percent of people refuse chemo for that fact alone and that’s a lot of people,” Graham said.

Graham lost all of her hair after undergoing chemo while fighting breast cancer. “It was too late for me,” she said.

But Graham made it her mission to help others avoid the same fate. She founded Hair to Stay, a non-profit that helps breast cancer patients afford a technology called "Cold Caps" which health insurance companies don’t normally cover.

“They literally freeze the capillaries in your scalp so the chemo doesn’t get to the hair follicles,” Graham explained. “If the chemo drug doesn’t get to your hair follicles, your hair doesn’t fall out.”

Hair to Stay was able to pay for Gilman’s Cold Cap treatments but she said it was still a gamble considering a wedding was at stake. “They weren't fun,” Gilman said. “You freeze it (cold caps) in dry ice and you get 8 caps and you have to switch them out every 30 minutes.”

Months of wearing Cold Caps at negative 32 degrees had a cool pay off. Gilman married the love of her life, with a full head of hair.

“I had my beautiful wedding in March,” she said.

Gillman said keeping her hair wasn’t a matter of vanity, it was more about the healing process. “Being able to look in the mirror and see myself, it kept my identity, and it kept my privacy and it made me not feel sick,” she said.

Many Cold Cap patients still lose some hair, but Hair to Stay has seen an 86 percent success rate.

“I hope that the bald person is no longer the symbol of breast cancer in America,” Graham said.

To learn more about cold caps contact the Breast Cancer Resource Center at 512-524-2560.

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