by Lauren Odomirok

CORNELIUS – “Rapunzel, Rapunzel let down your hair!” cries the prince as he gazes up at Rapunzel’s tower prison in the children’s story, and she obliges him with many feet of silky tresses.



Yet for cancer patients suffering from the effects of chemotherapy, having long, healthy hair again can seem like a fairytale.

Debbie Ruthenberg, owner of Signature Style Hair Studio in Cornelius, is eager to change that reality by restoring a little magic to cancer patient’s lives. She has designed a style-a-thon event at her salon from 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Oct. 22 with all proceeds collected from haircuts, color and smoothing services benefiting The Rapunzel Project, a nonprofit that helps chemotherapy patients keep their hair during treatment.

According to The Rapunzel Project, cancer accounts for 25 percent of U.S. deaths, and 8 percent of men and women forego chemotherapy treatment for fear of losing their hair.

Nevertheless, thanks to the work of scientist Frank Fronda of Medical Specialties of California, many patients are discovering a way to save their locks as they work toward recovery.

Fronda launched the Penguin Cold Cap in 1994. The bright blue, crylon gel cap is kept at 22 degrees Fahrenheit and applied to the scalp before, during and after intravenous chemotherapy. This narrows the blood vessels beneath the skin and slows the metabolic rate of hair cells by freezing the follicles, so they cannot absorb chemotherapy drugs in the blood stream as easily.

Although this technology has been available in Europe for about 15 years and according to the product’s website can assist about 80 percent of patients in saving their hair, it is just now becoming familiar in the U.S and is not yet FDA approved.

“People said you’re nuts, you’re daft because in order to put the follicles to sleep you’re going to need in centigrade terms minus 25 degrees at least,” Fronda said. “And if you put that on your head, you’re going to get frostbite, and the scalp will come off.”

Fronda found a way around the frostbite concerns with the use of crylon gel, and when Nancy Marshall and Shirley Billigmeier, both breast cancer survivors, heard of a way to save their hair, they excitedly formed The Rapunzel Project to spread news of the cold cap to others.

“It’s not a cure, but it’s a piece of the cure because it’s a piece of well-being for individual patients,” Marshall said.

When Ruthenberg heard of The Rapunzel Project, she decided to partner with Kerna Professional hair care products to raise money for research and to buy freezers for oncology centers, so they could store cold caps. With the nearest freezers to Lake Norman residents in Atlanta, Ruthenberg was determined to act fast.

“Kenra representatives told me about The Rapunzel Project, and I thought, ‘Why don’t I know about this? I go to all the hair shows in New York!’” she said. “They asked me to put a little money jar on my counter for this cause, but I knew I could do better than that.”

All customers who attend the style-a-thon will receive complimentary wine and dessert as well as two free Kenra products and the chance to win prizes.

“The reason this is so close to my heart is because we shave a lot of customer’s hair off when they have chemotherapy. We cry, and they cry. It’s just horrible,” Ruthenberg said. “I just want cancer patients to know there’s an option out there for them."