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A Degree of Normalcy

Sep 10, 2021, 16:36 PM by OnCenter

When breast cancer patient and Ventura resident Cindie Medak began grappling with where and how to receive the chemotherapy she required after surgery in 2019, she and her daughter began looking for a solution that could preserve her hair. “I am not a vain person. With cancer, hair should have been the last thing on my worry list. Hair does not have to be that big of a deal, but for me, it was,”” Cindie admits. She researched different cold cap and scalp cooling systems where patients wear tightly-fitting hats or helmets filled with ice or cold liquid during their chemotherapy infusions. These devices protect hair by narrowing the blood vessels beneath the skin of the scalp. This decreases the amount of chemotherapy medicine that gets to the hair follicles. Less medicine in the follicles often means less hair lost.

Some of the cold cap systems sounded complicated to Cindie, and she felt they might add more pressure to an already stressful situation, but the clinically-proven Paxman scalpcooling technology at Ridley-Tree Cancer Center sounded promising. At the Cancer Center, staff members assist patients in wearing the cold cap during their chemotherapy sessions, a process that usually requires a patient to stay for approximately one additional hour following treatment.

When Cindie and her two adult children met with Sam Howland, Ridley-Tree’s Patient Support and Integrative Services Associate Director, to discuss the option, they were convinced Ridley-Tree was the right place for chemotherapy and for the cold caps. “I could not get enough of how everyone was so lovely, sweet, kind and caring,” Cindie comments.

Cindie Medak with grandchildren

The Cold Cap Program at Ridley-Tree Cancer Center is sponsored by Athena Cosmetics in partnership with the Cancer Foundation of Santa Barbara. The Cancer Foundation received a two-year $100,000 grant to provide caps for local cancer patients receiving chemotherapy treatment who are identified as eligible for the protocol. The Paxman system has helped over 100,000 cancer patients in more than 50 countries worldwide to retain their hair during chemotherapy, and it worked for Cindie, too. Once she found a size that fit properly, Cindie describes the experience like a brain freeze from eating cold foods. “You do get that freezing feeling in your eyes and your head, but it’s only for five minutes and then you are OK,” she explains. The cap stayed on during each of her four, two-hour chemotherapy sessions. The results made the brief discomfort worthwhile. Cindie kept about three-quarters of her hair, and since her follicles were preserved, the new hair that grew in was straight, like it was before her diagnosis.

The teams at Ridley-Tree Cancer Center and the Cancer Foundation of Santa Barbara understand the value of retaining as much normalcy as possible for patients throughout their cancer treatment, and the value of providing a service that is typically not covered by insurance or Medicare. “We believe this is a small way to help patients preserve their self-image and feel that their identity has not been taken from them. It helps them feel like themselves,” shared Lori Willis, Cancer Foundation Executive Director. At 67 years-old and in remission from her cancer, “Nonna Cindie” as her eight grandchildren like to call her, is ready to focus on enjoying life and retirement. She reflects on how Ridley-Tree and the cold caps program gave her extra support at a difficult time. “I was blessed to receive that grant. It was such a beautiful gesture,” she says. “It definitely helps to have caring, loving people around you when you go through something like this. It is so healing.”

Photo caption: (Bottom) Cindie Medak with two of her grandchildren 

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