Everviolet Chats: Courtney Carlstrom, Founder of Hair & Hope

Courtney Carlstrom's journey through breast cancer, chemotherapy and the emotional trials of hair loss has propelled her towards an extraordinary mission. In 2022, she established Hair & Hope, an organization committed to raising awareness and funding for cold caps, offering cancer patients a means to retain their hair during treatment.

In this compelling interview we learn about Courtney's vision, her personal experience with cold caps and the profound transformation Hair & Hope has sparked in her life as a breast cancer thriver. We also explore the enduring impact of community, the concept of embracing the "Beauty of Change" and uncover what dreams Courtney holds for the future. Continue reading to be inspired by her story and the incredible impact of the Hair & Hope initiative.

Can you tell us a little bit about your personal experience with breast cancer, chemotherapy and hair loss? How did it inspire you to create Hair & Hope?

Breast cancer is something that we all hear about but never expect to get –especially at 33 years old. My oldest son, Henry, was 2, and my youngest son, Theo, was just 6 months old when I found the lump in my left side. It was June 2020, and everyone was still in lock down when we received the call confirming that it was indeed breast cancer. The fear, sadness and grief that came over me was overwhelming. The amount of information, tests and procedures one has to do before you even start chemo is crazy. Then I started to get information about the side effects of chemo and, of course, losing my hair. I was lucky to have a team of doctors who suggested cold capping. The amount of support I received from my care team during my treatment was amazing. Even though I was not allowed to have any family or friends with me in the hospital, I never felt alone. The nurses, doctors and staff were always there to keep me company and make sure I felt supported. They were my true inspiration to give back and start Hair & Hope. The mission of Hair & Hope is not solely to meet the tangible financial need of providing cold caps to cancer patients going through chemotherapy. We also provide a source of encouragement, support and mentorship to the patients we are walking alongside, as they begin their treatment journey. In just our first year, we have been able to provide cold caps to 10 patients.

In your experience, how do cold caps work and how do they help those undergoing chemotherapy? 

Cold capping essentially keeps your hair follicles frozen, so chemo drugs cannot impact them during treatment. Before each infusion, I would work with my team of nurses to get the cold cap on and fitted properly. I wore the cold cap during every infusion, and it greatly helped my mental health during chemo. During cancer, everyone is so worried about your physical health, but a lot of times people forget about how much our mental health plays a role in the healing process. Because I cold capped and retained hair, I was able to look in the mirror and see me. My kids saw their mom, and my husband saw his wife. The process gave me hope and control at a time when so many other things were out of my control. 

How does it feel to know that Hair & Hope will help others going through chemotherapy keep their hair, and regain a sense of control during a difficult time?

This question is really at the core of why I decided to start Hair & Hope. Just knowing that we can help someone going through this difficult journey regain a sense of control, during a time when you have no control, is such a motivating feeling. In it, I have found so much personal healing and purpose, and it makes me want to help as many patients as possible. We spread the word to patients about to embark on their treatment journey as well as to supporters who are interested in helping provide cold caps to others in need. 

Can you share a specific story of how Hair & Hope has made a difference in someone's life?

We have a recipient who has gone through two major rounds of chemotherapy. Not one person mentioned cold capping to her before her first round of treatments. Her first chemotherapy treatment caused complete hair loss, which was devastating to her. 

She went into remission for eight months, but tests and scans showed the tumors coming back. After hearing that she would have to go through chemotherapy again, the thought of losing her hair that was growing back was another heartbreak. She randomly saw a news special about capping and knew she needed to try it this time around. 

She found Hair & Hope and is so grateful that we were able to grant her cold caps to use during her treatment. She shared with us that  she looks and feels so much better this time around because of her hair. Her story impacted us because it is surprising how many people still don’t know about cold capping. We hope we can spread awareness, so that women know they have this option.   

What message do you have for others who have been diagnosed with cancer or are going through chemotherapy?

You are not alone. Whether it is Hair & Hope or other organizations, please reach out. There are so many of us in this community who want to help and support you. Cancer is horrible and without support it is even harder. 

How has starting Hair & Hope impacted your own journey as a breast cancer thriver? 

Hair & Hope has helped me with my own journey in ways I did not expect. When we started Hair & Hope just over a year ago in 2022, my mission was to give back. But really, the patients we help are the ones giving back to me. To be able to help others has given me purpose and a reason for my entire cancer journey. It has been truly healing for me to be able to help others. 

Can you speak to the importance of community support and the role it played in your own journey and in the mission of Hair & Hope? 

Although breast cancer is never a community you want to be a part of, once you're in it, the support is immense. This truth was the main motivation to start Hair & Hope. I wanted to make sure that people going through chemo knew they can find support from people who have already walked in similar shoes. Although no cancer journey is the same, being able to connect with someone who really understands is invaluable.

What are your hopes for the future of Hair & Hope and its impact on those receiving chemotherapy?

My dreams for the future of Hair & Hope are big. My desire is that Hair & Hope will be able to provide cold capping grants to every single patient who contacts us. I would also love to be able to create a network of advocates and mentors from our previous grant recipients to support and walk alongside as many people facing chemo as possible. 

“Beauty of Change” is our motto at Everviolet. What does that mean to you?

"Beauty of Change" means so much to me. After I was sick, I was not the same person as I was before. Cancer takes a lot away from you, and going through chemo, a double mastectomy and radiation changed the way my body looked and how I felt about it. But to be able to embrace my new self with all the scars and be proud of who I am today is what beauty of change means to me. 

To learn more about Hair & Hope go to their website: hairandhope.org. Also, their annual fundraiser is on October 28, 2023 – to learn more about how you can help support their initiative go to: givebutter.com/hairandhopefundraiser