For many kids who are diagnosed with cancer, the thought of losing your hair can be particularly scary. That’s why two Alaska moms are bringing some fairy tale magic into the lives of little ones who are battling this cruel and often debilitating disease.
Through their non-profit, The Magic Yarn Project — which will soon celebrate its second anniversary – volunteers have made close to 4,200 princess wigs. They’ve been distributed to children with cancer in 29 countries, including the U.S., Chile, France, Greece, Ghana, Israel, Thailand, Japan, Indonesia and Australia.
The project is the brainchild of Holly Christensen, a 33-year-old mother of three who lives in Palmer, Alaska. It first began in 2015 when her friend’s 3-year-old daughter was diagnosed with cancer. Christensen made the child a long Rapunzel wig.
“I knew she loved all princesses. She had long, curly blond hair and I thought she’d really appreciate the wig,” Christensen told TODAY, noting that she had worked as an oncology nurse and knew that chemotherapy often makes skin supersensitive to traditional hair wigs. So Christensen took a soft beanie and added yarn that she styled to replicate Rapunzel’s luxurious locks.
The wig was a hit and the girl’s mother encouraged her to make more. After photos were posted on Facebook, the idea went viral. Christensen eventually teamed up with Bree Hitchcock, a graphic designer in Anchorage, to launch a non-profit company to produce the wigs.
Fast forward to today and over 3,500 volunteers have donated their time to learn how to make the wigs through either online tutorials or out-of-state workshops. The average wig takes 1 to 4 hours to make and uses 5 to 10 ounces of yarn.
The volunteers even include female inmates at the Highland Mountain Correctional Center in Alaska, where Christensen goes twice a month to teach women how to make the wigs.
The most popular princess wigs include Elsa and Rapunzel, but volunteers also make Anna, Ariel, Aurora, Belle, Cinderella and more, in addition to pirate wigs and superhero beanies.
Christensen, who runs the non-profit company out of her one-car garage, hopes to create chapters across the U.S. to make shipping easier, as there are no employees, and the organization is funded solely by donations.
For Annesha Weber’s daughter, Arli, who was diagnosed with neuroblastoma in 2015 when she was just 4, the princess wig was life-changing.
“She didn’t want to be a Disney princess, she wanted to be Princess Arli,” Weber told TODAY. “I asked her ‘what wig would you want?’ and she said ‘Mommy I need rainbow.’” A volunteer handcrafted a special wig just for Arli, which arrived just in time for a fundraiser for the little girl.
"It was a miracle in a way because right at that moment, when she was in the most pain over losing her hair, her wig arrived on the doorstep," said Weber, who lives in Rusk, Texas. "We pulled it out and she was so happy and we put it on her head and she was rearing to go to the party."
Weber added of Arli, who is currently in remission, “I would say it helped her feel like a little girl again. She kind of lost her identity there for a minute… but when she had the wig, she got it back.”