Cancer Survivor Opens Upscale Wigs Boutique to Support Other Patients & Survivors
Writer / Tyrel Kessinger
Photographers / Christine Mueller & Hollie Colwick
Heidi Fuller is a positive person. So much so so that she’s even found a way to put an uplifting spin on cancer. Because, well, that’s just who she is. In 2015, Fuller was diagnosed with Stage 3 uterine cancer. She did her best to brace herself against the “storm,” as she calls her war with cancer, but she found she had no idea what to truly expect. After making it out on the other side, having learned what she learned through the school of hard knocks, she knew she wanted to help others through their own storms, those that, like her, were initially unprepared as to what to expect.
So, in 2016, Fuller opened Awakenings Boutique, an online store selling wigs (as well as other cancer-treatment related items such as lotions and nausea candies) to help meet the same needs that had plagued her during her own bouts of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. She recalls that she herself did not have the most pleasant experience when she went to get her own wig — a time that is already rife with unpleasantries. The less than desirable interaction left Fuller wanting to make the experience of others going through the hell of cancer as fun and enjoyable as possible. Her plan was a success. Fuller, soon after, opened a physical store in August of 2018 (also called Awakenings) which is located in Middletown.
“For myself, losing my hair was more traumatic for me than the cancer diagnosis,” Fuller says. “And this is common for probably 95 percent of women who are diagnosed with cancer. It’s the ultimate insult of cancer, you know, taking your hair. It was just very traumatic to lose my hair and have to wear a wig. But I truly found my strength when I decided to take my own hair. I cut it short, I shaved it. In that moment of shaving my head, I just became very fierce, determined. I promised cancer that I would be its forever worst nightmare.”
Fuller was born in Troy, Ohio but has lived in Louisville since 2000. She’s been married for 15 years, has two-stepdaughters (ages 18 and 21) and an adopted four-year-old daughter. She had been working with Starbucks’ business development department for 10 years negotiating franchise contracts. Needless to say, she had (and still has) a lot on her plate when cancer came calling. She realizes that many people aren’t as fortunate as she was, that many don’t have the same level of support that she did.
“Life still goes on even though you’re sick and it has to for a lot of people,” she says. “But there’s no reason anyone should have to do it alone, especially something that can be as disheartening as losing your hair and having to wear a wig.
“By the time they get to me they’ve usually gone through so much,” she adds. “And now they have to come in and pick out a wig and no one is looking forward to that. So I make that experience the most comfortable and fun as possible. As far as comfort goes, I shave my own head now which is kind of ironic because it was so traumatic for me to lose my hair, so I shave my head and wear the wigs myself so they come in here and they see that I don’t have any hair and that I wear the wigs. Immediately it just provides a level of comfort for them. It gives them confidence. They see me with no hair and they think ‘Okay, I can do this, she doesn’t have hair, maybe it’s not so bad.’ Or ‘Oh my gosh, she’s wearing a wig, I had no idea it was a wig.’ That’s probably one of the biggest things I do to support these people.”
Through her fight against cancer, one thing made itself apparent to Fuller — most people don’t know what to say or do for people who have been diagnosed with it. Particularly those who have never had any close friends or family to face down their own “storm.” So Fuller offers some advice to those who are wondering the best and most appropriate way to talk to people with cancer or facing chemo treatments and things you can do and get for them that serve a more practical and useful purpose.
“When you’re going through this you get all kinds of things,” she says. “People are sending you all kinds of stuff and really wanting to support you, but what you find is you get a lot of items you can’t use. Flowers is a big one. Everyone wants to send flowers. You can’t even really have flowers around you, you can’t take them to the hospital, you can’t take them to chemo. They just sit there. There’s no use for them. Sympathy cards, like ‘I’m so sorry you’re sick.’ You just want to laugh. You kind of want to forget that you’re sick for a while. So you should really find out what they’re basic needs are. If they have children, maybe providing transportation to soccer practice or go to school or proving meals so the caregivers don’t have to cook. Forming a group of people that can just jump in and help out. If you’re out of town just find items that will help them, like the skin care or nausea candy or the snarky cards. Blankets, sockets, hats, beanies, scarves, you know, comfort products.”
Fuller also stresses that the caregivers shouldn’t be overlooked. The obvious focus is on the individual fighting cancer, but the people taking care of them need help and support, too.
“My mom and my husband were my caregivers, and they just struggled to keep up with my medicines and my surgeries and they kind of got overlooked through the cancer storm,” Fuller says. “They needed people to talk to and items as well to help me, like a cancer planner or books or something to help them be caregivers to me.”
Fuller may be in a better, happier place today but there will always be those whose dark times have yet to come or whose silver linings might not be so silvery. She’s prepared though, and Fuller and her store are ready to offer respite from any gathering storm, no matter its severity.
“When they’re in here, at Awakenings, I feel there’s light through the darkness,” she says.
Awakenings Boutique is located at 12121 Shelbyville Road in Louisville. You can visit them online at awakenshop.com or give them a call at 502-382-4400 for more information.