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Local woman finds way to keep hair during chemo

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BOSTON (MyFoxBoston.com) --After a double mastectomy and a year of chemo, Jill Thorpe is feeling better just in time for Christmas with her family, and wants to share something that made a difference in her battle.

Jill says finding a way to keep her hair throughout chemo made all the difference in her spirit.

"I didn't want to be a victim and I didn't want to look in the mirror everyday and say, 'I have cancer,'" she said.

Jill used an experimental treatment called cold cap therapy using a tightly fitting strap-on hat filled with chilled gel. The cold narrows blood vessels in the scalp and reduces the amount of chemo reaching the hair follicles.

"So there are no doctors who do it. My husband did it, he is my rock," she said.

Her husband's fellow firefighters at Massport Fire Rescue and Jill's high school friends helped raise some of the money to order the supplies from Penguin Cold Caps and locally, Brookline Ice reduced the cost of the dry ice they needed.

"The first hour was really harsh, my head was shocked, eyes with tears and it was hard and then after the first hour it was okay. I can do this," she said.

"We had two coolers, I would get 80 and 100 pounds of ice and just rotate the caps every half an hour," Jill's husband said.

This isn't FDA approved, it's purely cosmetic one could argue, but for Jill it's psychological and gave her energy to help fight her battle with cancer.

"I can go to my kids' school, date night with my husband and no one has to know that I'm sick. Like life as much as I know it is going to stay unchanged."

A spokesperson for Mass. General Hospital where Jill is being treated said doctors aren't ready to comment on cold caps. They didn't want to give false hope. And we found the same at Dana Farber.

While it might not work for everyone, Jill says she's at least one piece of proof.

Only a few states are currently conducting clinical trials on cold caps. Right now in our area, you would have to do it at cost, on your own like Jill. In several small studies, cold caps were considered highly effective in 50 to 60 percent of the women who used them, but it's important to know that cold caps don't work for everyone and it can depend on the type of chemo you're getting.