Color of hope
Tibetan bells chime softly as I open a door wreathed in pink roses. Pink letters spell out a welcome sign—Lovely Lady. Soon I’ll be greeted by some very special women. “My ladies,” I call them. They mean the world to me. So does this shop. Yet if I had my druthers, I would close it down tomorrow, after nearly 30 years. Let me explain.
I was a young nursing student in California, full of idealistic dreams back in 1976. I didn’t know where life would take me, but like many students, I felt a desire to make a difference. I volunteered to help with a breast cancer support group that met at the hospital. Week after week women of all ages opened their hearts. Some spoke of side effects from chemo; others discussed the challenges of juggling family responsibilities with treatments. But they had one thing in common—feeling like they lost their sense of normalcy when they lost their hair. “It’s like I have no privacy,” one woman said. “One look at my head and everyone knows what’s wrong.” “I can’t even find a decent wig,” said another. “Nothing looks like ‘me.’”
Just a few weeks earlier, I’d accompanied my friend Carol on a trip to find a wig. Chemo had robbed her of her beautiful golden locks. We went all over town. Finally we ended up in a costume shop. Suffering from a serious disease, Carol was lumped in with people getting dressed up for Halloween! It broke my heart. Now, listening to these women, I discovered many of them had had similar bad experiences looking for scarves, clothes, even prosthetics. “I felt like a science experiment,” said one. Finally, one night driving home from the meeting, I turned to the Lord: There must be some way to help these women. Show me how.
My mom had taught me to sew, so at least I could make scarves. And when it came to fitting and styling wigs, I’d attended classes for wig cutting. What if I opened a shop for them? A place where women experiencing breast cancer could be given undivided attention and feel, at least for a time, normal. A haven of sorts where they could find prosthetics, jewelry, clothes and wigs (nothing Halloweenish about it). I found a cozy rental space and, in the fall of 1978, I set up a shop called Bare Necessities. I took to my new mission-making every square inch welcoming. Wigs of every color and style were displayed on mannequins. Saucy hats and scarves in every shade lined ivory dressers. I hung verses on the walls. An open antique chest was home to inspirational books and pamphlets on breast cancer. I wanted women to feel as comfortable here as they did in a tearoom.
Word spread quickly. “Finally!” cried one of my first women. “A place where I can shop and sit and chat with other women facing cancer. God bless you!” Another woman was shy at first. “I don’t know if I have the strength to beat this,” she admitted. “Yes, you do!” I said. “Just have faith.” She left my shop with her head wrapped in a teal scarf, and kept in touch with me throughout her treatment—today she’s cancer-free!
After a few months this little spot became a second home for women with cancer, a place where they could retreat from the burdens of illness. I’d found my life’s work.
I spent over a decade in California, catering to my ladies. But in 1989 I headed east to North Carolina to care for my elderly parents. There I opened a new shop. I named it Lovely Lady, after my lovely mother who bestowed her skills on me.
Today, I’ve added inspirational DVDs and CDs to the chest. Bouquets of fresh pink and crimson roses stand on every side table. Two rooms are beauty parlors with salon-style chairs and full-length mirrors. Everywhere there is pink. Pink, the color of triumph over breast cancer, the color of hope. The sitting room boasts two overstuffed couches where women can sit and chat. One day every month a cancer support group meets in the shop. I laugh and cry with my ladies, but most of all I listen. I draw inspiration from their struggles, strength from their stories.
At five o’clock the Tibetan bells chime once more as I close the brass-trimmed door to the Lovely Lady. I softly say the same prayer every day: Lord, please let there be a cure for breast cancer, so I can close my shop for good. But in the meantime help me make each woman feel like the lovely lady she is.