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A Degree of Dignity

IMG_1205.JPGRobin Ball had decided it was time for her hair to go. “The minute she started losing some hair, she’s like, ‘I’m taking it off.’ And boy, did she,” says Carrie Meo, Robin’s best friend and business partner, as she described Robin’s freshly-shaven head.

Robin was undergoing treatment for breast cancer and the chemotherapy had started to thin her hair. Robin approached her journey with incredible determination and grace, yet in private, she confided to Carrie that losing her hair really affected her.

“She was married, she was still young, and her hair was a big part of her identity,” says Carrie. “When you’re diagnosed with breast cancer, a lot of things are going through your head. You may lose your breast, and then you’re losing your hair.”

An estimated 1,400 Maine women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019 and many of them will lose their hair, which could affect their attitude toward treatment. In fact, some research shows that women may even decline treatment because they’re afraid of losing their hair.

When Robin was diagnosed with breast cancer, Carrie learned as much as she could about the disease so she could better support her friend’s journey. Carrie found that for some patients, hair loss isn’t inevitable, thanks to new technology that cools the scalp while a patient receives chemotherapy.

Here’s how it works: the patient wears a lightweight silicone cap for 30 minutes before treatment, during treatment, and for an hour after treatment. The cap is connected to a cooling device that circulates cold fluid around the scalp. The cap lowers the temperature of the scalp to below freezing, reducing blood flow to the hair follicles by 20 to 40 percent. The result? A reduction in hair loss for many patients.

This FDA-approved technology is available at many large cancer centers, but not in Maine. After seeing Robin and others in her life struggle with hair loss during treatment, Carrie decided that it’s time to change that. Recently, Carrie approached Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center Foundation with an idea: a fundraising effort to bring hair preservation technology to the Lafayette Family Cancer Institute in Brewer, in memory of Robin.

The $250,000 campaign goal would cover the equipment lease and offset the estimated $2,200 cost of each silicone cap, which is not covered by insurance. While it would begin as a pilot program for breast cancer patients, it could be expanded to patients who are being treated for other solid tumor cancers.
Cancer took Robin’s life in 2016, and while Robin couldn’t avoid losing her own hair, Carrie knows that Robin would be enthusiastic about helping women gain a sense of control over a side effect that can be devastating.

“I’m sure she’d be very proud about what we’re trying to get accomplished, and I think she’d definitely see it as something that’s needed in the community,” says Carrie. “It’s a hard road, it’s never easy for anybody, but Robin would want us all to go on and stay strong. She kind of had a little say on some of these things and on how things were to go. And she still does.”

For more information about the campaign to bring hair preservation technology to Maine, please call Jeni Lloyd at Northern Light Health Foundation at 973.9628.