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Princess wigs for cancer patients: A Palmer nurse's idea goes viral

  • Author: Marc Lester
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published November 7, 2015

Feeding her imagination can't cure a young girl's cancer.

But Holly Christensen believes bright yarn wigs on the heads of children braving chemotherapy can make a difference when they need it most.

"It creates a magical escape from the horrible reality that they're in, the disease that they're fighting," she said.

Forty people joined her Saturday at a Palmer church, looping yarn onto crocheted beanies atop Styrofoam heads. The volunteers braided and twisted golden, crimson and rainbow colors in the hairstyles of animated superstars: Elsa, Anna, Rapunzel and Ariel.

"They're based on the most favorite of the Disney princesses," said Christensen, a 31-year-old mother of three. "Hopefully we'll have a Jasmine available soon."

It was an idea born just a few months ago, when Christensen enlisted a few church friends to help her make wigs. Immediately, the positive response began to grow. When she asked for yarn donations on Facebook, replies came from across the country.

The Magic Yarn Project was born.

Now the effort has raised thousands of dollars, and joined forces with other organizations that help sick children. Soon, girls treated at hospitals in Anchorage, St. Louis, Houston and Salt Lake City will enjoy a bold new look.

Christensen hoped to have 40 finished wigs at Magic Yarn's second workshop Saturday. It was a goal that wouldn't be possible without the women inside Hiland Mountain Correctional Center, who crocheted many of the beanies that make up the foundations of the wigs.

Carl Hicks, a Hiland staff member who oversees the crochet program inside the female prison with help from volunteer group Tender Mercies, said 70 prisoners made 150 beanies in a two-week period. She remembers when officials first told the group about the Magic Yarn project.

"The ladies were more than a little bit ecstatic," she said.

Among the women who participated, there was even a small competition for who could make the most, Hicks said.

Hicks said the prison plans to next teach the women how to make the full wigs. She said the program helps maintain order in the jail, because good behavior is required to participate. She thinks the wig workshop is shaping up to be a big incentive.

"Having a class within the next couple weeks to put the whole wig together, I think is going to occupy a lot of time," Hicks said.

Buoyed by the support she's had at every turn, Christensen is thinking big. She and her friends have been exploring how to make the Magic Yarn Project a new nonprofit, or part of an existing one.

She envisions a professional website, a procedure for shipping yarn out to communities that want to get involved and creating tutorial videos on how to make the wigs.

Christensen hopes each wig duplicates the response she got from the first she made.

That one went to a friend's daughter who was being treated for cancer, a child she knew would lose her long, curly hair. Christensen, a former intensive care and cancer center nurse who says she has seen the worst of the worst in her career, knew it was going to be difficult for the child.

In photos, though, she saw a child in a Rapunzel wig, stroking her stringy locks and feeling beautiful.

"At that moment, I knew it would be kind of special," she said before helping several others with their projects. "But I didn't anticipate that so many people would want to get involved, too."

"We've had people in Scotland and Australia and California and Minnesota wanting to put on their own workshops."

Alaska Dispatch News reporter Devin Kelly contributed to this story.

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