Out of tragedy and necessity sprung a product that preserves the dignity of women who have lost their hair to cancer treatments. In the process, it renewed the Catholic faith of its designer. Angelle Albright of Covington had cancer eight years ago at age 38 while a young mother of a 4-, 7- and 9-year old. She lost her long locks of hair and tried to cover her bald head – so people wouldn’t stare at her when she was in public – with wigs that she found too hot and scarves that fell off. Nothing really worked adequately during her battle, she said. Then, she went into remission and her hair grew back.
Sister also struggled
Fast forward five years. Her older sister, Danielle Fournier-Marino, contracted breast cancer and started losing her hair. Surely, Albright thought, in five years since she experienced the same illness, advances had been made in hair accessories available to women undergoing chemotherapy.
Sadly, she discovered there weren’t any.
“There are thousands of hats and scarves, but none of them was right,” she said.
So, Albright got to work and designed a head wrap with a skirt on the back made of elastic material – like a beanie – and Chemo Beanies was born.
Albright’s niece Adrienne Metz in California had a Romanian friend who sewed and made prototypes from her drawings. Once manufactured, the beanies took off.
“Danielle started wearing them to chemo, and everybody wanted one,” Albright said. They expanded the style choices, naming each design after a woman they know who went through cancer, and put them online.
In 2 1/2 years, the for-profit business has sold 35,000. Albright said they attend small conventions, pharmacy shows, oncology nurses’ conventions and are in every major cancer center in the United States and 500 retail stores. While the business hasn’t yet made enough money to pay salaries to six partners – Albright, Fournier-Marino, their sisters Michelle McGoey and Rochelle Fournier-Klamer, their mother Patricia Fournier and Metz, who is CEO/president – they are paying their bills.
God had a hand
“I believe that God has handled this whole business,” Albright said. “His will was to use my survival to help women feel better.”
She’s heard from people who have worn the beanies and even got word from the family of a woman who had died of cancer wanting to be buried in the Chemo Beanie she wore while ill.
“It has touched people,” she said. “It’s a mission that is larger than our business.”
Albright had been away from the Catholic faith for decades, but when she heard the news that she had a 34-percent chance of survival, she had nowhere to turn for strength but her childhood Catholic religion.
“I knew I had to believe and have faith,” she said. “You cannot go through facing death without having faith in God. You can’t go through life thinking you will never die. You can’t wait until you are in the foxhole,” like she was.
Bargaining with God
She said she bargained with God, even though she felt she was no longer even worthy of talking to him.
“I couldn’t understand why he would leave three children motherless, so I told him, ‘If you let me live longer to let me see them grow, I would do your will for the rest of my life.’”
She said without cancer, she never would have returned to the Catholic faith because she didn’t understand its importance to her life. Since returning to the faith, she’s seen miraculous things happen over and over. She said people should look to their suffering – no matter what it is – and know that God will help them through it.
Chemo Beanies donates a portion of its proceeds to cancer organizations, and Albright also makes free custom wedding veils with the Chemo Babies for brides getting married. Albright has designed and sewn six custom veils so far.
“It’s a triple curse. The first is to have cancer; the second is to lose your hair; and the third curse is to get married at the same time,” Albright said.
A personal touch
The Chemo Beanies are still made in California, and Albright’s sister Danielle Fournier-Marino bags and ships them to women worldwide.
“My sister feels like she has her hand on every patient when she mails them out at night,” Albright said.
Currently, Albright and her partners are vying to be the winner of the Walmart “Get on the Shelf” contest. Albright’s pitch in September in California to marketing buyers of Walmart landed Chemo Beanies as a finalist of the Walmart online reality series that showcases leading American entrepreneurs. Chemo Beanies won in the category “Live Better” for products with a heart. Walmart marketing representatives told her, “Cancer has touched so many lives that it could be a fantastic global product.”
Preorders of the products of the five finalists (www.walmart.com) will determine the overall winner who will get marketing support from Walmart and an introduction to the marketing team at Walmart Stores. (View web episodes at http://geton theshelf.walmart.com).
“I truly believe that God uses all of us,” Albright said. “You can create a silly hat out of a yard of fabric and change people’s lives.”
Discover Chemo Beanies at www.chemobeanies.biz.
Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarion herald.org.
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