Isle of Wight Co. woman uses cold caps to prevent hair loss during chemotherapy

Posted at 11:41 PM, Jun 08, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-09 07:20:10-04

SUFFOLK, Va. - When Barbara Herrala first got the news in March of 2016 that she had breast cancer, it was a world of uncertainty - with one exception.

"I remember the first time I came in to meet [my doctor], among the first things he said to me was something like, 'there are not a lot of pleasant things about the side effects of chemo, and you will lose your hair.'"

But Herrala had already started doing some research and came across something that gave her hope.

"I remember looking right back at him and saying ... well maybe not," Herrala said.

While searching online, Herrala discovered the non-profit organization The Rapunzel Project where she learned about cold caps - a type of therapy that can help patients keep their hair while they undergo chemo.

"Because they're very cold, they constrict the blood vessel so they really don't allow as much of that damage to occur from the chemo," Ciro D'Angelo, founder of Arctic Cold Caps, explained to News 3 via Skype.

There are several companies that can provide the caps. New Jersey-based Arctic Cold Caps is the company Heralla chose to use during her six rounds of chemotherapy treatment.

D'Angelo started the company in 2015.  He was inspired by his daughter-in-law's experience using cold caps during her own fight with cancer.

"She saved her hair and it was such an enormous sense of normality," D'Angelo said.

The caps are frozen using dry ice and then worn during chemotherapy treatments. They have to be changed every 20 minutes starting 45 minutes before chemotherapy and for at least four hours after.

After getting approval from her doctor at Virginia Oncology Associates in Suffolk, Herrala ordered the caps and recruited friends and family to help her with the process.

A team of nine people took turns getting the caps on and off, and it worked.

She had one round of chemo, then another, and another, keeping most of her hair through it all.

"Probably I lost maybe 20, 25 percent of my hair.  Mostly it was around the crown up here, so if you looked at me you could not tell," Herrala said.

Herrala says it was about much more than just keeping her hair, though.

"It actually gave me some power over the cancer. It was something I could do to fight it myself," Herrala said.

Nothing about fighting cancer is easy, but she found a way to keep smiling during a difficult journey.

"It kept my spirits up. For me, it was the best thing I could have done for myself."

Now, she's hoping her story will help others facing their own cancer battles.

The price varies by companies. Arctic Cold Caps rents the supplies on a monthly basis for $379.

Although most health insurance companies do not cover the cost, Herrala was able to get it entirely covered by a supplemental cancer policy she had through Aflac.

There is also another type of scalp cooling that is starting to become covered by insurance after getting FDA approval in 2015, though it requires the use of a machine.

You can learn more about the DigniCap system by clicking here.