BATTLE CREEK, Mich. — Veronica Troutner said she’ll never forget the moment her hair started falling out. It happened five years ago. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer and worried about losing her long blonde hair.
“The third day after my first chemo I was outside on a beautiful day,” said Troutner. “It was kind of windy and big chunks of my hair was flying all over.”
Troutner said she decided to shave it off. But had she known there was a way she could’ve kept her had, she would’ve taken it.
“We all have a perception of ourselves with and without hair and who we are as a person,” said Troutner. “When I lost my hair it really, you really don’t know who you really are.”
Troutner wore wigs and hats when out in public, she said. The staff at Bronson Battle Creek said looking sick is a stigma all cancer patients face, including their own. But now, they have a solution. It’s called a DigniCap and it helps to reduces hair loss during chemotherapy.
“It is a cooling cap machine,” said nurse Donna Campbell during an interview at Bronson Battle Creek’s Cancer Care Center where she works. “We bring down the temperature to 37 to 42 degrees Fahrenheit, which is about 3 degrees Celsius, so the chemotherapy doesn’t affect those hair follicles.”
Campbell explained that breast cancer patients come in about 20-30 minutes before their chemotherapy session begins. Nurses spend that time cooling the cap down. Once it’s done the patients keep it on the entire time and sometimes leave it on until up to three hours after. She said the cool temperatures lead to less blood flow, which prevents the chemo from fully reaching the hair.
“The two patients that we have using the cap right now they are very excited because they had minimal hair loss,” said Campbell. “You are still going to lose some of your hair but the benefits of the machine, they say that for a success of the machine is to only lose 50 percent of your hair loss.”
Currently the hospital only has one cap and it serves only two people at a time, she said. They’re renting it from a company in Sweden for $1,000 a month. There are 21 sites in the United States currently using the cap. Bronson Battle Creek is the first to offer it in Michigan. And, it's free.
“When people lose their hair and put on a cap or put on something over their head, people sometimes recognize them as a cancer patient,” said Campbell. “So this is to help keep their identity of not being a cancer patient per se.”
Campbell said because of the cap’s success there’s talk among hospital officials to potentially rent another in the near future. The current one was funded through the Bronson Foundation via donations. Troutner said it would’ve been great to have when she battled cancer. Should she be diagnosed with cancer again in the future, she's definitely using the cap.
“If I would’ve been given the chance to keep 60 percent of my hair I would’ve went for it simply because you’re going through so many other things at the time,” said Troutner. “If you didn’t have to think about your hair, its one less traumatic event that you’re going through.”
If you’d like to make a donation
Click here for the Bronson Foundation website