Losing one's hair is hardly unique for a woman battling cancer. It’s a common result of chemotherapy.
But for one Gilbert woman, keeping her hair meant keeping a little bit of herself. And now it’s something she’s focused on helping other people.
“I just wanted to be me,” Rebecca Eylers said. “I didn’t’ want people to know I was sick unless I told them…. A checker at the grocery store doesn’t need to know I have cancer.”
When Eylers was diagnosed with fallopian tube cancer, her mind quickly flipped to her son’s wedding in a few months. She knew she didn’t want to wear a wig if she didn’t have to.
“I knew if I had to go that route, I’d have a pink wig and a blonde wig. I’d go get those big earrings and scarves, but I didn’t have to,” Eylers said. “At the end of the day, especially when I’m having a bad day, I wanted to look in the mirror and look like me.”
Following a complete hysterectomy would be three rounds of chemo, and Eylers knew the chances of keeping her hair were pretty slim. And while she doesn’t consider herself a vain person, looking like herself for her son’s wedding was important.
That’s when her husband, Hinrich, turned to the internet to try to find a solution.
“He didn’t even give me a choice,” Eylers said of her husband. “He got on the computer and started searching for ways for me to keep my hair.”
The two discovered Penguin Cold Caps, a European invention that effectively freezes the scalp of chemo patients during their therapy, Eylers said. By constricting blood flow, the chemo cannot reach and damage hair follicles during treatment.
But the Penguin Cold Cap company maintains that the caps have been used in Europe safely for two decades.
Many doctors are worried that if chemo drugs can’t reach the scalp, it may lead to metastasized cancer cells in the scalp, which is why Eyler’s oncologist was initially opposed to the treatment.
The cold caps are not for everyone, and people with certain cancer shouldn’t use the caps, Eylers said.
After calling a list of other American women who took the same chemo drugs as herself, Eylers decided it would be worth the try.
While it was an expensive endeavor — the cold caps can only be rented by the month from the company — the Eylers saw the value in the expense.
“I don’t color or perm my hair,” Eylers said. “I am a licensed cosmetician, so I have always cut my own hair. Some women will spend $100 on their hair at a salon.”
Eylers estimated that the rental cost of the caps was about $1,200.
Eylers and her husband had been married for about three months when she was diagnosed with cancer in 2010, she said.
“People close to you always ask, ‘Is there anything I can do?’” Eylers said.
In Eylers’ case, there was something her husband could do for his new bride — change the frozen headwear that Eylers would wear every 30 minutes for an hour before treatment, four hours during treatment and four hours after.
“It’s not a complicated thing to do,” she said. “But it’s a tangible thing to do.”
So with a big, blue, helmet-like cap strapped tightly to her head, Eylers received three rounds of chemo.
“It gave us something to focus on,” she continued. “I was very nervous before my first round, but having everything broken up into chunks helped to distract me.”
After her treatments were done, Eylers still had most of her hair, losing only a few little chunks—one by her left ear and a few buried in the back of her curly brown hair.
Now she helps others who, like herself, wish to keep her hair after chemo.
Doctors often times are hesitant to allow their patients to use cold caps, Eylers said.
“I wouldn’t ever try to convince anyone to do this,” she said. “It’s not right for everyone. But for women who do want to keep their hair, I am willing to give them as much information as possible.”
So far, Eylers has successfully helped five women in Arizona through the process, all of whom correctly used the caps.
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