Cancer survivor turns hair-saving treatment into opportunity for others

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When life throws you lemons, sometimes you need to regroup and make lemonade. This is the story of Madison Novice, who was about to start her senior year at Duke University four years ago when she received a life-changing call from her doctor.

The then 21-year-old Bloomfield Hills resident was told she had Hodgkin’s lymphoma and would need chemotherapy to fight the disease.

Already on her way into the medical profession, she had volunteered at the Duke Cancer Center’s boutique and assisted in fitting wigs for cancer patients who had lost or were about to lose their hair as a result of chemotherapy.

“I’ve seen firsthand the impact hair loss has on cancer patients,” she told me. “When I was diagnosed, my thoughts leapt straight to the patients I had helped in the boutique. I asked my doctors if I was losing my hair and they all said yes. ”

She took a year off from college to deal with her health issues (she has since recovered) and was just finishing her sophomore year at the University of Michigan Medical School. She feels blessed.

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After her diagnosis, Novice’s paths crossed with others who were battling cancer, worried about hair loss and turned to scalp cooling caps to help.

“I got a call from a family friend, Ali Weitz, telling me about this treatment called Cold Caps (i.e. scalp cooling) that can reduce hair loss during chemotherapy. It was what she used during her breast cancer treatment and it made a huge difference in the world for her,” Novice said. “She really pushed my family into this. Thanks to Ali, I was able to save my hair during chemo and maintain a sense of normalcy at such a challenging time in my life.”

To help others benefit from the Caps, Novice and Weitz, along with Janet Gendelman, Molly Powers and Novice’s sisters Karlee and Taylor Novice, launched Cap & Conquer in 2020. They wanted to educate and raise funds for people about scalp cooling caps to have access to treatment (they can be expensive at $1,500 to $3,000 each and are not usually covered by health insurance).

The caps work because the cold temperature restricts blood flow to the scalp, and this reduces the effects of chemotherapy on the follicles, according to the Cap & Conquer website.

“We’ve all encountered cold caps in different ways, but we’ve all been deeply impressed by this treatment,” Novice added.

Cap & Conquer will be hosting its second annual golf outing on August 8th to raise funds. It will be held at Tam-O-Shanter Golf Club in West Bloomfield. Entry fee is $250 for golfers and $125 for non-golfers.

The nonprofit has raised over $170,000 to date and helped over 75 patients afford cold caps.

I asked Novice a few questions. Your answers have been edited to save space.

QUESTION: What was the “aha” moment in deciding to launch Cap & Conquer?

REPLY: After I finished chemotherapy and returned to college, I struggled to resume my normal life. I felt disconnected from myself and my world at Duke. At least my hair allowed me to see myself in the mirror on the roughest of days. It allowed me to walk around campus and keep my head up, knowing I had the privacy to share my story how I wanted, when I wanted. It allowed me to look normal even when I didn’t feel normal. At that time my sisters and co-founders Taylor and Karlee Novice and I were arguing that without Ali Weitz I would never be in this position. The problem is that most people don’t have Ali Weitz. Many patients never realize that cold caps are an option. Many of those who do can’t afford it, as it costs $1,500 to $3,000 out of pocket (you usually rent the caps as a monthly fee, so the price varies depending on the length of chemotherapy). Of those who can afford it, many do not have a support system. … We wanted to change that.

We turned to Ali and developed Cap & Conquer. Shortly after, we were connected to Janet Gendelman, an ovarian cancer survivor who used cold caps during her treatment and wanted to help start our nonprofit. When Molly Powers was eventually diagnosed with breast cancer, the novice family urged her to try cold caps. She did it with success and during her treatment worked with us to create Cap & Conquer.

Q: Tell me about this therapy?

A: Cooling hoods, also known as scalp cooling, are very cool hoods worn before, during and after chemotherapy to reduce hair loss. Cold caps can have a major impact on a cancer patient’s quality of life before, during, and after treatment. For over 50% of cancer patients, hair loss is the most feared and dreaded side effect of chemotherapy. One study showed that up to 8% of cancer patients would refuse curative chemotherapy for fear of hair loss. Our mission is not for everyone to use cold caps because not everyone wants to. Our mission is that everyone knows about cold caps and can afford them if they want to use them.

Q: How were you able to bring your idea to life?

A: Countless people have helped us. Ann Marie Uetz and her team at Foley & Lardner, a Detroit law firm, helped us with the legal paperwork needed to become a nonprofit organization. Sandy Hermanoff has been incredibly supportive of our PR efforts. Olivia Bolwell and Christine Abram are our social media superstars. We have incredible volunteers to help us screen applicants and mentor patients throughout treatment: Sarah Shareef, Ellanya Kallabat, Rachel Lawson and Reinie Thomas. Joanne Novice is our Chief Financial Officer. The list goes on and we are so thankful for the countless sponsors and individuals who make Cap & Conquer possible.

Q: You have completed your second year of medical school. How are you?

A: I’m in my clinical rotations and I’m loving it. I had to postpone my senior year of college while undergoing treatment for Hodgkin Lymphoma. My goal is that all cancer patients know about scalp cooling and can afford to use it if they so choose.

Q: Any advice for others on starting a nonprofit organization?

A: My biggest advice is to build an incredible team that you trust. Your team not only makes it possible, but also fun. Our six co-founders are so lucky that we have the best team to help us every step of the way. Also, reach out to others who have started nonprofits in your field—ask them questions and learn from them.

Q: Who inspired you on your journey?

A: My biggest inspirations are my co-founders. These women are so fierce, strong and compassionate and I am so lucky to be able to embark on this journey with them! I’m also inspired by all of the patients we sponsor; Their stories remind me every day why we started Cap & Conquer in the first place.

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Contact Carol Cain: 313-222-6732 or [email protected] She is the executive producer/host of “Michigan Matters,” which airs Sundays at 8 a.m. on CBS 62. See former Detroit Lions stars Herman Moore, Peter Bhatia, Dr. Kwane Watson, Wilma Taylor-Costen, Maureen Donohue Krauss and Chris Holman The Sunday Show.

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