Sue’s wigs come with empathy

Sue Owen... “It’s not all about the wigs – it’s about support, empathy, feeling fully understood.” Photo by Andrew Finch

Sue Owen… “It’s not all about the wigs – it’s about support, empathy, feeling fully understood.” Photo by Andrew Finch

WHEN Sue Owen was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005 and lost her hair through chemotherapy, she found it hard to find headwear she liked.

While going through her own treatment she came up with the idea for HeadsUp, a not-for-profit community shop in Kippax that sells a variety of wigs and hats, from secondhand headwear offered as a gift to “stunning, stylish” French hats and the softest bamboo headscarves.

Sue started HeadsUp at Calvary Hospital in early 2010, where she says she was able to use a shared office near the chapel.

“I approached Bosom Buddies and they seed funded me $2000 to buy my first headwear,” she says. “I started small but became self-sustaining.”

“For me, I was proactive about my hair loss and shaved it off a week before starting chemotherapy. I personally didn’t use wigs, as I had a knack for looking good with headscarves and turbans.

“However wigs give a sense of normalcy, although the wig will never look exactly like someone’s own hair.

“Ladies like to look glamorous, and hair is a big part of that, but you can’t wear a wig 24/7. It’s also about soft, stylish, comfortable headwear.”

And it’s not all cancer, either, Sue says permanent alopecia is the forgotten group and doesn’t always get the same funding as cancer treatment.

“It’s an honour for me to do what I do,” she says. “It gives me the greatest joy to support ladies to feel better.

“One of my volunteers said she went home and cried with happiness because she felt she had made such a difference in someone’s life.

“It’s hard when you know ladies that don’t have a good prognosis, but we need to be strong and give them a good time.”

Sue says the Kippax shop became the prototype for HeadsUp Australia, to help communities set up a not-for-profit HeadsUp in their town.

“Our aim now is to seed fund others in rural areas so that women need not feel isolated or that they need to travel to a city to get quality headwear,” she says.

Sue says that amazing children’s wigs are also available, though they don’t get asked a lot because children are generally treated in Sydney.

“But we are happy to help anyone who asks, and we recommend Freedom wigs where each hairpiece is tailored to its wearer and designed to sit perfectly with a suction cap,” she says.

“They’re great for children as they don’t move or slide at all, you can even swim in them and they look like real hair.”

Sue has been at Kippax for three years, and describes HeadsUp as more than just a shop.

“People drop in just to have a cup of tea and a chat, or to show us that their hair is starting to grow back. It’s not all about the wigs – it’s about support, empathy, feeling fully understood,” she says.

“We are all trained volunteers who work here, there are 12 of us and most of us have been through a cancer diagnosis and treatment, so we understand exactly what the women are going through.

“I’ll also do adjustments – it doesn’t matter where the wig was purchased, bring it in and I can alter the fit for you.

“It’s a safe place to come.”

HeadsUp, Shop 2, 12-16 Hardwick Crescent, Holt. Call 6254 4403 or Sue on 0416 227595.

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