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A personal battle against Cancer

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Posted: Tuesday, April 24, 2012 3:00 pm | Updated: 3:21 pm, Wed Apr 25, 2012.

For 10 days Karen Viger watched her bathroom sink, shower and mirror anxiously to see if the cold cap therapy she and her husband applied during her first chemotherapy session worked.

The cold cap therapy was used during her cancer treatment to try and save her hair.

She is happy to report that so far the cold cap seems to be working.

Viger was at Essentia Health Wahpeton Clinic Monday morning for her second dose of chemotherapy. Her hair remains glossy and more importantly, is still attached to her head.

"It has gotten a little thinner, but that was expected," Viger said.

Daily News readers were introduced to this Campbell, Minn., couple earlier this month when they first tried the cold cap therapy to try and save her hair from falling out. Viger was diagnosed with breast cancer in January. She is undergoing an intensive course of four chemotherapy sessions, followed by six weeks of radiation therapy.

Normally within the first 10 days of the type of chemotherapy she is undertaking, the hair follicles are damaged to the stage where it falls out. Usually the patient either shaves their head at this point or are bald from the damage to the follicles. Viger seems to be beating the odds with the cold cap therapy and this is one battle she gladly undertakes.

Her husband, Paul Viger can't fight her battle with cancer, nor could he sit by and let his wife wage this war on her own. His choice of attack was to try and save her hair and give her as normal an appearance as possible during these treatments.

"I don't want our children, or Karen, to look in the mirror each day and see a sick person," Paul Viger said. "Society in general doesn't want to see a sick person."

If half of the battle is a willingness to fight, Viger has the best support network available. This battle isn't just about losing hair, it is about controlling one aspect of an illness which gives the sick person little control. It is about maintaining a sense of normalcy when the reality is, Viger is fighting for her life and waging a battle against an opponent which takes no prisoners. The first round against cancer most assuredly goes to Viger. She has a head full of hair and the next attack came about Monday morning as the second of four doses of chemotherapy was administered.

Cold cap therapy has been successfully used in Europe for 20 years. As doctors refined the therapy, the cold cap has given patients a 90 to 95 percent success rate. The cap is cooled to 22 degrees below zero and placed on the patient's scalp, Paul Viger said. The cap cools the head and decreases the amount of chemotherapy to the scalp. This helps save the hair follicles.

"I wish the medical community would embrace this therapy more," Paul Viger said. "Doctors won't straight out recommend this type of therapy. Patients should know about this as it will at least give them a choice."

Karen Viger waited patiently for her helpers to put the cold cap on during her session. The cold caps need to sit on dry ice for three hours to reach the correct temperature. Because this was her second session, she knew what to expect with the frozen caps being placed on her head.

"At first it is a little intense until my scalp freezes," she said.

The cold caps need to be replaced every 30 minutes during treatment and for an additional four hours after. A timer was placed on the counter of her treatment room to signal when the next cap needed to be placed.

"I got a little tired of changing caps," she said of her first experience with the cold caps, "and that evening I was exhausted. But I listened to my body and went to bed early."

As her helpers settled into their new routine, Karen Viger remained optimistic about her hair.

"To me all of this is worth it," she said. "If it does work, it is one piece of the whole cycle I have some control over. This cold cap therapy gives me a little power over my cancer."

If she can maintain the course of treatments as set by her doctors, her third chemotherapy session will be May 14, with the final dose administered June 4. After two to three weeks of healing, Viger will begin a daily radiation treatment in Fargo for six weeks. If she can get through the next few sessions of chemotherapy with her hair, she should be one of the 90 to 95 percent of people who used the cold cap therapy successfully.

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