College of Nursing

Make wigs for childhood cancer patients

3/13/2017 8:00:00 AM - Steven Tibbitts

BYU will host a service event for The Magic Yarn Project, a nonprofit group organized by BYU College of Nursing alumna Holly Willardson Christensen, on Saturday, March 18.

The wig workshop is the first for Utah County and allows participants to craft Disney princess–like hairpieces for children being treated for cancer. The event in the Wilkinson Student Center Ballroom begins at 9 a.m. and continues until noon. The goal is to produce 200 wigs and all supplies are provided and ready for assembly.

The organization started in 2015 when Christensen, of Palmer, Alaska, found out that the daughter of one of her friends from nursing school not only had cancer but was also losing her hair. Christensen put her crocheting talents to use and made a wig for the child using a soft yarn; she then made a few more with friends.

Soon, however, she realized that a few wigs would not be enough.

“Right away, I knew that this wasn’t going to be a one-time project of making a few dozen wigs,” Christensen says. “This would be much bigger than that.”

Thus The Magic Yarn Project was born. It quickly garnered nationwide attention. Volunteers sprang up to make wigs and the accessories that accompany them. Christensen even managed to recruit women in an Alaskan correctional center to knit and crochet for the wigs.

“As an oncology nurse, one of the things I learned is that I can’t do everything, but I can do something,” Christensen says. “The goal of The Magic Yarn Project is to help bring some magic into the lives of little cancer fighters.”

More than 1,500 children in more than 23 countries received wigs to resemble the looks of Jasmine, Elsa or Rapunzel — all at no cost to the patient or their family. She also makes dreadlocks for boys to become the character of pirate Jack Sparrow.

Christensen frequently teaches workshops around the country, knowing that every wig she or a volunteer creates becomes a treasure for a suffering child. She dedicates around 40 hours to the project weekly, on top of supporting her family and completing two shifts each week as a nurse.

“There have been times a little voice inside myself has said, ‘These are just wigs, this isn’t that important,’” she says. “Then we get emails, and (parents) tell us how much it meant to them to see their daughter smile again after nothing but illness and needles and pain and hospitals. So, for these children and their families, they feel like this gives them a little bit of a normal life again, a glimpse of what it might be like when they get better.”

The National Cancer Institute estimated last year that in America alone over 10,000 children would develop cancer in 2016. Childhood cancer brings a broad range of problems for both children and their parents, one of the most obvious being the loss of hair that frequently accompanies chemotherapy treatments, with traditional wigs becoming too rough for use on sensitive scalps.

To overcome these issues, various individuals use the softest yarn to craft chemo caps for the organization so that wig workshop participants can attach braided yarn and accessories the day of the service project. Typically wigs are returned to Alaska for distribution by Christensen’s staff. With the BYU event, nursing students completing clinical practicums at the Huntsman Cancer Hospital or Primary Children’s Hospital will personally give the wigs to their cancer patients.

The upcoming workshop is open to anyone who can tie knots and follow instructions (crocheting or advanced crafting skills not needed). The materials are provided by The Magic Yarn Project organization, with yarn being cut and prepared by BYU College of Nursing students.

Anyone interested in making a monetary donation to the organization or viewing photos of the wigs can visit www.themagicyarnproject.com.