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 now widely used. Shirley learned that it would be possible to rent the cold caps and potentially save her hair. She then 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 more 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.