The Rapunzel Project is very personal to its founders, Shirley and Nancy, because they are both breast cancer survivors. Their own experiences with cancer inspired them to help make the journey easier for future patients.
When Shirley learned that she needed to undergo chemotherapy to limit the chances of a cancer recurrence, she immediately set out to purchase a wig – anticipating the loss of her hair. In the process, she inadvertently heard about cold cap therapy, or scalp cooling. She began to investigate, and ultimately connected with Frank Fronda, the scientist who invented one particular type of cold cap that is widely used in Europe. When Shirley learned that it would be possible to rent the cold caps and potentially save her hair, she approached her oncologist, who was extremely supportive. The biggest obstacle appeared to be that the caps have to be used at -30° centigrade (-22° F), a temperature that normal freezers do not reach. The alternative to having a suitable freezer would be to cool the caps with dry ice, making the process a difficult one.
At this point, Nancy recognized that this was a huge opportunity for Shirley and many chemotherapy patients like her. She started fundraising among Shirley’s wide circle of friends to purchase a suitable freezer. Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis was exceptionally receptive to the project and offered to let the donations go to its Foundation, which then purchased the freezer for the hospital.
Shirley’s first chemotherapy treatment was done with the caps on dry ice. Subsequent treatments were done using the newly arrived freezer. Shirley did not lose her hair!
What was once a fantasy – that patients could keep their hair during chemotherapy – is now a reality. This was the inspiration for the creation and naming of The Rapunzel Project.
WHAT IS COLD CAP THERAPY?
Cold cap therapy, or modern day scalp cooling, involves the use of special caps, frozen to a very cold temperature, and worn for a period of time before, during and after each chemotherapy treatment. The cooling of the hair follicles prevents chemotherapy toxins from reaching them, preserving the follicles and therefore preserving the patient’s hair. This process has been in use in Europe for more than 15 years. Well over a thousand individual patients in the United States have learned of and successfully used cold cap therapy in the last few years.