The event that's tackling ovarian cancer - one step at a time.

Written by Letitia O’Malley.

Letitia O’Malley is 41 and a mother to two young children. In 2013, she was devastated to lose her close friend Kelly Carlton (Kel) to ovarian cancer at just 43. Letitia was desperate to help Kel achieve her vision of assisting other cancer sufferers. She put her talents to work – she is a hairdresser and loves marathons – and so the 24-hour Hairathon was born.

About Kel.

Kel was one in a million. We met through a mutual friend over 10 years ago and I remember thinking just how lovely she was.

She was so gentle, loving, loyal, intelligent and funny. Kel was incredibly beautiful inside and out. She had gorgeous full lips and no one wore red lipstick like she did. Her big brown eyes and infectious laugh would lift an entire room. You were safe with Kel. She never uttered a bad word about others, and she gave the best hugs.

Kel’s journey with ovarian cancer.

Kel was diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer in early December 2012. Kel focused on fighting hard and living and enjoying life. She was so selfless and caring. Cancer treatment is hard, particularly for advanced cancer sufferers where there is no cure. Kel made it her mission to support others in her own flamboyant way.

She always had chemo on a Friday. To lift everyone’s spirits, she established “Champagne Friday”. She and the other chemo patients would enjoy a fine bottle of bubbles along with some pâté’, French pastries and other delights. Champagne Friday became so popular that Kel’s family and friends had to book in advance to get a spot with her.

“Kel focused on fighting hard and living and enjoying life.”

Kel put in a tremendous fight, but the cancer was very aggressive. We often spoke on the phone in the early hours of the morning. She was awake from the chemo and I was awake breastfeeding my newborn son. Kel knew her cancer was terminal and what lay before her, and wanted to raise awareness to keep helping others. I found these conversations so hard. Kel was the strong one and had accepted she was dying, but I didn’t want to lose her. I promised Kel I would continue with my plans to raise money for the care of cancer patients.

Ovarian cancer claimed my beautiful friend on 29 July 2013 – a day I will never forget.

Creating the Kelly Carlton Legacy and the Hairathon.

We established the Kelly Carlton legacy in April 2014 with the vision to support cancer patients and their families and raise awareness of the symptoms of ovarian cancer, which is a silent killer. The symptoms are often vague. If you notice any unusual and persistent changes such as abdominal bloating, feeling full quickly, fatigue or irregular periods, you should visit your doctor.

There are so many worthy charities and I wondered how I could get started and stand out. I focused on my skills. I’m a hairdresser and thought I could offer great affordable haircuts and donate the money to the Brisbane Mater Cancer Care Wellness Centre. We hairdressers are like counsellors. We get to connect with people, particularly cancer sufferers who often lose their hair. Donating our time to cut hair is a personal and practical way for us to help and remember all those people who are suffering from or have died from cancer, and their loved ones.


I also thought I could do this as a 24-hour ‘Hairathon’. I train for marathons and it struck me that cancer treatment is like a long and hard race to survive. There are many times you want to give up, but you need to fight for you and everyone around you.

“There are many times you want to give up, but you need to fight for you and everyone around you.”

The first Hairathon was held in September 2014 at Marc James Hairdressers in New Farm. At first, I thought it would just be me. I never anticipated the generous support of my hairdressing fraternity. This includes hairdressers I had never met, who just showed up with their scissors and helped cut hair through the night. The morning of the event I thought a few loyal clients might come in, but was shocked to see people lined up around the corner.

In total, 12 hairdressers cut over 200 people’s hair, raising over $6000. These funds have been used by the Mater Cancer Care Wellness Centre to offer complementary services including art and music therapy, nutrition support, fatigue management, counselling and support groups.

The 2015 Hairathon and River Run 100.

On Sunday 16 August, the Hairathon joined the 24-hour River Run 100 event, offering a pop up style salon at Southbank in Brisbane.

The River Run 100 is a 100km relay created by Craig Mottram, one of Australia’s top distance runners, as an event for runners to raise money for their favourite charities. Anyone and everyone can build a team.

All the hairdressers from last year have returned, including Brisbane barber Audi Lincoln, Marc James and stylists from Tonique Hair and TigerLamb, as well as Hair Elements from the Gold Coast. There’s no need for an appointment, just turn up. Adults are $30 and children are $15. In celebrating Kelly, there will be yummy treats, plenty of laughter and raffles for some lovely bottles of bubbly.


I literally will ‘cut… and run’. I’m one of 12 runners for the Kelly Carlton Legacy and will run a leg from 3am to 5am with our ultra-marathoner Cassie Smith, who is running the entire 100km. It will keep me awake.

In the words of Gary Bertwistle, presenter, author and founder of Tour de Cure, who will also be running:

“There is something empowering and motivating about running for a cause. Knowing that your efforts are helping someone else draws you towards the finish line…. it gets you through the hard times we all face in our own race.” 

I am so proud to be hosting the Hairathon and running the river to help Kel keep helping others.

Hairathon 2015

Where: Southbank Parklands (Brisbane). Marquee located at River Quay Green. Co-location with River Run 100 event.

When: 5pm Saturday 15 August 2015 until 5pm Sunday 16 August 2015.

Cost: Adults $30, Children $15.

For more information visit kellycarltonlegacy.orgRiver Run 100 or 24 hour Hairathon’s Facebook.

Can’t make it to the event? Donate here.