Leanne shares her Scalp Cooler story

Breast cancer patient Leanne shares her story of using a scalp cooler and hopes it will inspire others to take part in charity marathon The MoonWalk London

Leanne, 49, is a Deputy Head Teacher at a Primary School. Earlier this year, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

"Earlier this year I was doing a breast check when I found a small lump in my right breast. The lump was quite high up, almost on the muscle above the breast. I didn’t have any symptoms, although before Christmas I had started to feel quite run down. As I was only 49, I’d not started having routine mammograms.

I made an appointment with my GP who referred me to a Specialist at Addenbrookes Hospital, Cambridge. Within three days I’d had a mammogram and biopsy, and a week later (February 2018) I received my results confirming that I had triple negative breast cancer. I have no family history of breast cancer, or any other cancer, apart from my grandad who’d had lung cancer.

The Specialist who I was with on the day of the mammogram had told me ‘things weren’t looking good’, which helped, in a weird way, when I got my results.

I’m divorced, but have a massive support network of family and friends, and I’ve been very grateful that at every appointment I have taken someone with me.

I feel lucky that I only live 20 minutes away from Addenbrookes Hospital and I have been receiving the absolute best treatment from everyone there.
My treatment plan has been 12 weeks of weekly chemotherapy followed by 9 weeks of different chemotherapy, given every 3 weeks (21 weeks in total). This will be followed by a lumpectomy and maybe radiotherapy (dates tbc).

The thought of having chemotherapy didn’t worry me at all – it was part of the process. I feel like I have been lucky and coped with the chemo quite well – I’ve not had any appetite or weight loss. The last 9 sessions have been harder as I have been receiving a stronger dose of drugs.

It was a friend who told me about the Scalp Coolers, and when I was at the hospital one of the Oncology nurses said to me “If you treat your hair like gold, hopefully you’ll keep hold of it.” It was explained that the Scalp Coolers don’t work for everyone but I didn’t have any apprehensions about trying it – the nurse was wonderful and reassuring about how it worked.

The Scalp Cooler is a cross between a rugby cap and a riding hat and has to fit snuggly to be effective. It reaches freezing temperatures but luckily as I am such a hot bod and had such good company, I didn’t really notice! At times, it felt quite soothing, but when I think back to the middle sessions of my treatment, the cap started to feel really cold as my hair had started to thin. It goes on 30 minutes before treatment and has to stay on for a period of time after treatment. Depending on the strength of the chemotherapy, it sometimes has to stay on for 90 minutes after treatment.

The Scalp Cooler has meant I’ve kept my hair. I didn’t realise how important it was to me to keep my hair, to feel normal. It meant that I could go outside and not be seen as ‘the lady who has cancer’, but be my usual self. My hair has thinned and I do have a bald patch on top, but with a crafty hair clip, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference!

I am taking part in three clinical trials at Addenbrookes Hospital- one is called ‘Partner’ and is a trial to provide more MRI scans during breast cancer treatment so patients can see their progress. I have had three MRI scans during my treatment. The second clinical trial I am part of is called the Mission study - imaging vascularity in primary breast cancer with novel MRI techniques. The third is called PBCP: Personalised Breast Cancer Program. I would encourage anyone to take part in clinical trials as you find out your treatment progress a lot sooner than you would with a standard program.

I have also been tested to find out if I carry the BRCA gene. Thankfully, this came back as negative, much to my relief for my two daughters, who are aged 20 and 18.
There is a Maggie’s Centre at the Hospital, so as a family we plan to start using their services. My daughter is at Nottingham University, and Maggie’s have said she can use the local services there if she wants to.

I still don’t think everything has sunk in as it has all happened so quickly. It has been hard for everyone – particularly my parents and my daughters – it feels like a bit of a whirlwind. I have good days and bad days but am looking forward to getting back to work and normality.

I completed The MoonWalk London in 2005 & 2011 in support of other friends who have had breast cancer. I’d missed out on a place in The MoonWalk 2011, but then I saw a competition in Good Housekeeping to win a place, so I entered and won!
The MoonWalk is an amazing event with an excellent set-up. I’ll never forget that feeling when I reached the finish line – it was wonderful. It also makes you stop and realise how many people are affected by breast cancer.

My daughters have completed the Race for Life for the last 8 years between the two of them.

I am benefiting from the fantastic work of Walk the Walk and I hope my story will inspire others to take part in The MoonWalk London. I also hope it encourages more people who are having chemotherapy to use a Scalp Cooler.”

Did you know... Leanne's story was also featured in Woman's Weekly magazine (10th October 2018)

Help Walk the Walk continue to help people like Leanne...

... sign up to one of our Challenges or Volunteer at either The MoonWalk London or The MoonWalk Scotland 2019. 


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