At 27 years old, I found myself surrounded by my family on the 14th floor of a hospital in Chicago. I have breast cancer. Stage three. Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, as my surgeon would explain. It had only been two weeks since my diagnoses, and we were waiting, anxiously, for the surgeon to better explain my options for treatment. The surgeon entered, sat calmly, and said something I will never forget: “Abby, your diagnosis is uncommon at your age, but 1 in 8 women are at risk of developing breast cancer at some point in their lifetime.”
ONE in EIGHT.
My parents and fiancé kindly took notes and asked questions for me, as my mind wandered to my mom, sister, cousins, aunts and friends. There were more than 8 of them, which meant that more of the people I love have a significant risk of ending up here, in a doctor’s office, just like this, having this same, life-altering conversation.
I left that appointment with the realization that if I was going to be the 1 in 8 for the amazing women in my life, then I was going to be an example. I was determined to continue my life as a normal 27 year old – with friends, a career and a wedding in the making. With my treatment regimen finalized and the first chemotherapy appointment looming, I was frantic to find a wig.
I began the search in Chicago, assuming resources would be endless. Not true. Even after finding locations to purchase wigs, the timeline and cost were not conducive to my new, 1 in 8, medical, financial and soon-to-lose-all-my-hair situation. I just couldn’t believe that after all I was able to accomplish medically in such a short period of time, I was going to go back to work in a Cubs baseball hat because I couldn’t find anything else appropriate to wear on my head. That’s when my brilliant mom recommended we call local salon owner, Mary VanKeulen of Sophisticuts Salon & Wellness Boutique in Princeton.
Since 2008, Mary and her Believe Foundation have been customizing wigs for local cancer patients. The nonprofit foundation supplies wigs, scarves and hats, cosmetic and skincare products, and post-surgical needs for as many as two or three people a month, in addition to educating patients about the changes in their appearance due to the side effects of treatments. These consultations can be scheduled individually by appointment at the salon, but her team of trained cosmetologists also travel to local area hospitals in coordination with the American Cancer Society, “Look Good, Feel Better” program.
I will always remember that first appointment with Mary as a defining moment in my overall attitude and approach to battling cancer. I cannot speak for all cancer patients or survivors, but it was the first time I saw myself with no hair that I finally realized the journey I was about to begin. Lucky for me, in that moment, I was surrounded by an amazing support team and the generosity of the Believe Foundation.
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, please keep the good work of the Believe Foundation in mind. Your kindness and charity will help make the 1 in 8 feel like 1 in a million.
Donations can be made at BelieveforHair.org or mailed to Sophisticuts Salon & Wellness Boutique at 1001 N. Main St., Princeton, IL 61356.
Abby Hahne was raised in Sheffield and now lives in Springfield. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.