Original story:

(COLORADO) — Haley Shirley was 24 years old when she was diagnosed with Stage 3 invasive ductal carcinoma. A breast cancer diagnosis is a shock at any age. But for Haley, the diagnosis came at an especially inconvenient time. She was planning her wedding.

“It was definitely a shock,” Haley said, “especially being 24 at the time. It was emotional for sure.”

She went through all the initial testing and started chemo in February of 2023.

“And then I went through my surgery and finished that in May and we were getting married that year in August. Everyone was like, are you going to, you know, progress forward with the wedding or are you going to postpone it? Like, what’s the plan? And in my head, I was like, that’s one thing I get to look forward to—getting to marry the love of my life!”

Haley approached the idea of chemotherapy with remarkable strength and optimism. But, as a bride, there was one thing she really struggled with.

“I would say the hardest part was probably thinking of losing my hair,” she said.

Haley’s mother-in-law, Andrea Shirley, a nurse navigator, suggested scalp cooling, a treatment she’d heard of that can help preserve hair during chemotherapy treatments. Haley said she wanted to try it. The process was rocky at first.

“So it took about three people and myself to fit the cap on. It was a lot of people,” Haley said, laughing. “I would have to soak my hair in freezing cold water and straighten it and comb it as far down to my head as possible. So after I did that, I’d hold the cap and they’d basically wrap it like a cocoon.”

Haley said the process was painful and she wanted to give up after that first treatment. However, the nurses encouraged her to let them try again after doing some pain management. They tried a few different medications and found a way to make the scalp-cooling process tolerable.

“After that first time,” Haley said, “I wanted to stop. And so I would encourage people that are in that position of starting scalp cooling—it’s not comfortable, but it’s definitely worth it in the end.”

She was completely done with chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery as of September 2023. She said scalp cooling helped to preserve about 60-70% of her hair.

Andrea was also happy to report that more and more insurance companies are providing coverage for scalp cooling. Below is a demonstration of what the process looks like.

Demonstration of scalp cooling, a treatment to preserve hair during chemo

“You know, for a woman that’s going through a cancer fight, a cancer journey,” she said, “it’s about losing yourself and your dignity. It may seem like a simple thing to be able to maintain hair, but it’s putting yourself out there. And that’s the face of your battle. So I’m hoping that someday scalp cooling is 100% recognized.”

Haley’s fiancé shaved his head because he didn’t want her to feel like she was going through it alone. It was “a sign of solidarity,” Andrea said. “He went to every appointment and alongside her mom and dad, she just saw the pull of a community. And she was such a fighter. Not one time did I ever hear her say, why me? Several times her mom and I said we wished we could take it instead of her. But she said, ‘No, Why would you? I got this.’”

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