An outback Queensland cancer patient has raised tens of thousands of dollars for a machine that helps save the hair of people undergoing chemotherapy — despite not being able to use it herself.
- A Cloncurry cancer patient has helped raise funds for a hair-saving machine
- Hair loss can be as traumatic as a cancer diagnosis or surgery for some patients
- The Mount Isa Hospital is the first public facility to have a scalp-cooling machine
Jan Schneekloth, from Cloncurry in the North West region, was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2019.
She wrote to local cattle station owners, businesses and community groups seeking donations for a scalp-cooling machine after hearing about the technology from a Mount Isa nurse.
The machines have been clinically proven to help cancer patients retain their hair during treatment.
The Quamby Rodeo Association, grazier Peter Hacon, the Lions Club, Susan and Peter Dowling, and mining company Glencore were among those who made it possible to buy the $50,000 machine.
The Mount Isa Hospital will be Queensland’s first public facility to offer the hair-saving service for free.
The hospital’s cancer clinic nurse unit manager, Nicole Williams, said getting the machine helped bridge the health inequalities between the city and country.
“So we’ve raised the bar to be able to offer something that is really not seen in the public sector within Queensland.”
Hair loss traumatic for some patients
Ms Schneekloth cannot use the machine herself, as she has already started her treatment.
She said she was not overly bothered about her hair, but empathised with others who struggled with the loss.
Ms Williams said a lot of patients reported that hair loss was more traumatic than any surgery or treatment they had received.
“Most [women] would say to me that it was the loss of privacy, because they’d become bald,” she said.
“Some women have said to me that they actually felt worse about the hair loss [than losing a breast].”
Townsville’s Director of Medical Oncology Professor Sabe Sabesan, who provides remote consultations to north-west Queensland patients, said the scalp-cooling cap could save up to 60 per cent of someone’s hair when worn before, during and after each cancer treatment.
“The theory is that they work by narrowing the blood vessels underneath the skin, not the skull, and then by reducing the blood flow you reduce the amount of chemotherapy that reaches the hair follicles,” he said.
Professor Sabesan said there were no other techniques or mechanisms on the market to prevent hair loss and believed the machines were not available at other public hospitals due to their cost.
It is estimated up to 50 patients could use the machine each year.
Breast screen battle for the bush
The scalp-cooling machine is not the first facility Ms Schneekloth has helped acquire for North West Queensland.
Twenty years ago, when Ms Schneekloth worked as a nurse at Cloncurry Community Health, she was instrumental in getting the BreastScreen bus to stop in the rural towns between Townsville and Mount Isa.
“We deserve the service there, the same as everywhere else,” she said.
She said her cancer was detected after a visit to the mobile BreastScreen van.