JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - A local hospital is unveiling a new treatment.
It's for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.
This breakthrough is helping patients regain some control over their diagnosis.
"Cancer is a very scary word," cancer patient Gail Wilson said.
Specifically for her, uterine cancer.
Two words she never wanted to hear from her doctor.
But, from her daughter, she heard only words of encouragement.
“Mama, you’re gonna do this,” Wilson said.
It led to hours of research into a new procedure.
"The doctor just told us about them," Wilson said. "He said he never really had any work with them."
We're talking about cooling caps, an option for patients undergoing chemotherapy to help slow down or stop hair loss.
"This is a big deal for women," St. Bernards' Dr. Mazen Khalil said.
Dr. Khalil knows that a cancer diagnosis adds stress to every level of a patient's life, including physical, emotional, and financial.
"Our goal is not only to diagnose and treat," Dr. Khalil said. "Also our goal is to be able to help the patient with every step of the way."
That's the drive behind St. Bernards' year-long mission to bring a scalp cooling system to their cancer center.
“I was very pleased to say yes, I’ve lost hair,” Wilson said. “But, I never lost all of my hair.”
Seeing Wilson’s success with hers only strengthened their resolve.
“The system we’ll use is the best available worldwide,” Dr. Khalil said.
The Paxman Scalp Cooling system has been proven in a clinical trial to decrease hair loss during chemotherapy by 50 to 60 percent.
"Now I'm already having patients ask me to delay their treatment until this scalp cooling system is available," Dr. Khalil said.
However, not every cancer patient is considered a good candidate.
So far, clinical trials have only proven successful with breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment with curative intentions.
"If there is a clinical trial that will show there is benefit for other patients, other types of cancer, then this use could expand," Dr. Khalil said.
But, starting out, St. Bernards will only offer the cooling caps option to those specific patients.
"And that includes both men and women," Dr. Khalil said.
Most importantly, St. Bernards will offer the system free of charge.
There are other cooling cap options available out there.
"I looked into bringing my own," cancer patient Kristie Stokes said. "But it's a really expensive option."
One that Stokes couldn't afford to choose.
"It happened on the Fourth of July, my hair began to fall out," Stokes said. "It was a really, really difficult day."
The difficulty with hair loss is not only about looks.
"It's an extension of my personality," Stokes said. "I loved my hair."
It's about privacy and not having to attempt explaining an already difficult situation.
"To me, it was important for my great grandchildren," Wilson said. "They don't have to see mommy or grandmother or whomever just without hair."
And it's about hanging on to one more of the very few choices that are in the patients' hands.
"It's one more decision that's put back in our court," Stokes said. "One more decision that we can make and have a little bit more control."
Kristie has done what she can to regain some of that control after chemo robbed her of her once very long hair.
"When I put on my wig, I do feel more normal, more like myself," Stokes said. "But it's not the same."
No matter, she continues to fight.
It's a fight that many women and men have faced before her, and one that many will face after.
But, beginning in December at St. Bernards, it’s a fight that will include one more decision for the patient to make.
"The fact that it can be offered as an option, and women can make that choice, and that they can have the possibility of being able to keep their hair, something that's so personal," Stokes said. "It'll just strengthen their ability to fight."
A fight that Gail Wilson managed to win, hearing two words she was waiting for her doctor to say, cancer free.
St. Bernards fundraising enables them to offer this service for free.
And they're still accepting donations.
So if you would like to donate visit their website at www.stbernards.info.