Health & Spirit

Device helps cancer patients keep their hair, dignity

Cassie Cope, The Charlotte Observer on

Published in Health & Fitness

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The doctor warned breast cancer patient Joelle Smith that her hair would fall out on Day 14 of chemotherapy treatment in 2002.

The prediction came true two weeks later when her hair started coming out in chunks while she washed it in the shower, so her husband helped her shave her head.

"I just felt like I stood out as a cancer patient," Smith said. "I didn't want that to be what people saw me as."

Smith went into remission, but was diagnosed with stage 4 four breast cancer in 2012. After trying a few other types of treatments, she learned this summer that she would have to go through chemotherapy once more.

But this time, she kept her hair thanks to a device new to Charlotte.

Many may not have heard of the DigniCap Scalp Cooling System because of the high cost, which insurance doesn't normally cover. The system also isn't common, with only two in North Carolina. The long treatment process can also be uncomfortable.


Oncology Specialists of Charlotte obtained one of the devices in March. Another is at Wake Forest Baptist Health Comprehensive Cancer Center in Winston-Salem. In July, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration expanded its use to treat all patients receiving chemotherapy for solid tumor cancers. Previously, it was just for breast cancer patients.

Smith, 51, was told about the treatment option when she learned she would have to go through chemotherapy once more -- daunting news.

Just the word "chemo" reminded her of feeling sick and tired, and losing her hair.

Back in 2002, Smith was bald for about six months and during that time, she wore lots of hats and bought a wig she never used.


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