For this year’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, we spoke with Phil Brace, CEO of The Little Princess Trust. The UK-based charity provides real hair wigs free of charge for children and young people who have lost their own hair through cancer.
Why do you prefer real hair for children’s wigs to artificial hair?
When many children and young people are told they have cancer, often one of the first questions they ask is: “Will I lose my hair?”
This is because of the way our hair so closely defines who we are, and its loss can seriously affect someone’s confidence and identity.
Our wigs are made from real hair and are hand knotted to give a natural look which alleviates concerns that some children may feel from wearing a wig.
Real hair wigs can also closely resemble a young person’s hair before treatment – something many children want to replicate when choosing the fit, style and look of a wig.
What is the difference/difficulty with children’s wigs compared to adults’?
The main difference is the size of the wig cap. A child’s head will grow until they reach adulthood and so getting the right size is essential to ensure the wig fits properly and is comfortable for the recipient. Our wig caps come in seven different sizes to ensure we can find the right fit for the child.
Do you get enough hair donations or is the supply difficult?
We are very lucky to receive donations from all over the world to ensure we can provide wigs to children and young people. We encourage supporters to make sure they have a minimum of 12 inches of hair to donate. However, as our longest wigs are our most popular, we are always incredibly grateful to those who donate hair in excess of 16 inches.
How is it possible to give the wigs away for free?
As a charity, we do not have any paid fundraisers and so rely on the support from the public to fund our service. Many people ask family and friends to sponsor their haircut – and these donations help to raise the £550 it costs us to make, fit and style each wig.
What else helps children to come to terms with their illness?
We know from speaking to our wig recipients that family and friends can offer a brilliant support network to someone undergoing such a traumatic experience. There are also other charities where young people can speak to peers with similar experiences. But we know that each individual is different and handles things differently.
You support research into finding better treatments for childhood cancers, e.g., by cooperating with the Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group (CCLG). Which areas of research are you currently focused on?
In 2016, thanks to the huge efforts of our fantastic fundraisers and corporate supporters, we were able to start funding pioneering academics and institutions leading the way in researching new and better treatments for all paediatric cancers. An area where there is so much work which desperately needs investment. We have now committed more than £15 million across 80 projects covering a range of childhood cancers.
We are striving to improve patient outcomes through access to new treatments through clinical trials as well as improving existing treatments and are working incredibly hard to identify innovative and impactful ways to improve survival and reduce the effects of treatment. The Little Princess Trust works in partnership with the Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group (CCLG) to find the most suitable projects. Some of the areas we are currently focused on include developing innovative new treatments for difficult to treat types of medulloblastoma and trying to further knowledge of the evolution of neuroblastoma to improve treatment.
What have you been planning for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month this year?
For Childhood Cancer Awareness Month we have published news stories on our website which have been promoted on our social media platforms. We have talked about the research projects we fund, why they are so important and how we can only fund them thanks to the amazing support we receive. We have also featured some of the people we have helped on our website and focused on the work we fund.
Kyle Matchett, for example, is a lecturer in Molecular Immunology at Ulster University and has received funding from The Little Princess Trust to see if approved drugs can be repurposed to more effectively treat acute myeloid leukaemia. Kyle has returned the support and, throughout Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, he and his lab team are walking the equivalent distance to Barcelona to raise funds for The Little Princess Trust and raise awareness. We are following their progress on our social pages while talking about their vital work in the lab.
Many thanks for the insights!