FOR many people undergoing certain types of cancer treatment, losing their hair due to life-saving chemotherapy is one of the harshest blows.
Hair loss can affect confidence, leading to low self-esteem, depression and despair for many in the biggest fight of their lives.
Now the charity Walk the Walk is helping men and women retain their locks by providing patients with scalp coolers which can prevent or reduce the level of loss.
NHS funding for scalp coolers is not a priority and over the last 12 years, grants have been made by Walk the Walk for 625 machines in 247 hospitals in the UK, including the Western General, and the charity is committed to removing the postcode lottery and offering more and more people the choice of using the machines.
Scalp coolers work by reducing blood flow to the head and hair follicles and the amount of drugs reaching them.
Edinburgh mum-of-six Hazel Burns, 45, used a scalp cooler when she was having chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer last year.
She said: “I’ve kept roughly 70-80 per cent of my hair – enough that it covers my head but I can feel it is thinner. If I put my hair in a ponytail, I’ve not got much, but really it’s only me that notices it.
“If I knew that this would have been the end result of chemotherapy, I’d have been far less worried about it. I would absolutely recommend using the scalp coolers.”
She added: “Keeping my hair meant I could continue to lead a normal life with the same privacy I had before. I was also able to keep things normal for my kids, which I am sure helped them deal with things. My main concern with having chemo was losing my hair – I wanted to make sure I did everything I could to keep it. My major apprehension about the scalp cooler was that it wasn’t going to be on tight enough, or that the machine wouldn’t work one time. I bought a wig just in case, but I was really glad that it just sat there and I didn’t have to wear it.”
Dr Caroline Michie, consultant medical oncologist at the Edinburgh Cancer Centre at the Western General Hospital said: “Patients with breast cancer often have a number of treatments which affect their body image and confidence, in addition to the physical side-effects. Hair loss is the number one most upsetting side-effect of chemotherapy for most patients, as is it such a visible reminder of their illness.
“Scalp cooling is the only treatment which can reduce chemotherapy-related hair loss, and for those for whom it works well, it can allow patients to keep their hair, allowing them to feel more like themselves and to have more confidence in facing the world. Just having the possibility of a reduction in the risk of hair loss can help psychologically in the early stages of diagnosis when patients are coming to terms with what might lie ahead.”
Walk the Walk is best known for its famous MoonWalks in Edinburgh, London and Iceland at Midnight wearing brightly decorated bras.