Amber’s Cozy Caps is a grassroots effort of nurses and community members. We provide comfort and support to patients who lose their hair as a result of their cancer treatments. The program uses volunteer knitters who donate caps of various sizes, colors, andtextures to The Marlene & Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center’s inpatient unit, N9W, at UMMC.
The nurses on the unit distribute the hats to the patients during their treatment. It’s a simple idea that came to be because of a special patient, Amber. A knitted cap is easy to make but can mean the world to someone who feels so vulnerable during a difficult time. They sometimes bring tears, and always bring a smile!
AMBER’S STORYI was diagnosed with APL (acute promyelocytic leukemia) on November 16 th, 2006. I was brought into the hospital by ambulance with no clue I would be moving in for a month. It seemed like so long before I got confirmation of my diagnosis, and I had so many questions about what was going to happen to me, including: Was I going to lose my hair? The nurses at UMMC did their best to answer all of my questions, but there was no definite answer on losing my hair. I had been in the hospital for 3 weeks undergoing chemotherapy treatment and I hadn’t had lost any hair, so I thought I was in the clear. I was wrong.
One morning while I was in the shower shampooing, a long strand of hair came out in my hand. It was only one strand, but it came from the root. I knew that wasn’t a good sign so I called my confidant—a woman my age who went through APL treatment 9 years ago. I told her one hair fell out, and her response was “the rest will fall out tomorrow”. She was right. The very next day my hair started falling out in clumps. For some, losing your hair can be an incredibly traumatic experience. I was more annoyed that it was falling out in my food. My soon to be sister-in-law asked a hairdresser friend of hers to come in. She gave me a really cute haircut, but that didn’t last for long.
I was released from the hospital the next week, but my hair was so short that it felt like something was stabbing me in the head. I got up and asked my fiancée to shave my head. I saw this on an episode Sex in the City, so I automatically thought it would be the chic and sophisticated thing for a cancer patient to do. I may have traumatized my fiancée though. I don’t think he ever imagined that he would have to shave bald the head of the woman he was going to marry. I decided early that I didn’t want a wig. They were itchy and hot and moved around too much. Plus I never hid the fact that I had cancer, so why should I start now. However, it was winter, and it was very cold outside.
At that moment, I fell in love with hats. Any kind of hat: baseball hats, knit hats (luckily I had 2 aunts who knit me a few to wear), fashion hats, etc. All of them were fun, and now I had a reason to wear them. Wearing the knit hats in particular gave me a sense of comfort and warmth. When I slept, I wouldn’t feel the cold air on my head anymore, and since they were so soft it almost felt like an extra pillow. For that moment before I fell asleep, the hats made me forget that I had even lost my hair. I am lucky to say that I went into full remission 2 months after being diagnosed. I am still going through maintenance treatment, but I believe that not getting stressed by the small stuff and keeping a positive attitude absolutely contribute to getting through any kind of sickness.
Losing your hair can be upsetting at first, but in the grand scheme of things; it is a small price to pay in the ongoing fight to beat cancer.
I haven't submitted any hats yet; I'm working on my second one. Anyone else want to participate? Please contact me if you do ... I have her email address and will forward it to you. I just don't want to post her email and have it get picked up by bots.