Bare Necessities is an Irish company specialising in affordable, stylish and comfortable chemotherapy headwear and accessories.
Founded by Jackie Sterling after her own breast cancer diagnosis in 2016, Bare Necessities believes in helping patients, friends and relatives get through cancer treatment without the unnecessary labelling that chemotherapy hair loss normally brings.
Here’s Jackie’s story.
It started in 2015, the year I turned 50. I’d been feeling tired, but put it down to the fact that I’m always on the go. My husband John and our kids, Tara, 25, and Stuart, 27, will attest to that. When I’m not working in a fashion boutique in Arklow you’ll find me out walking, running or catching up with friends. One day a friend of Tara’s called to see me at work, and when I hugged her I felt a sharp pain shooting through my right breast. It seemed so minor, I thought nothing of it, but it happened again that evening. I went to my GP to have it checked out. She couldn’t feel anything, but sent me for a mammogram to be on the safe side.
I had the mammogram done at the BreastCheck clinic on a Wednesday afternoon. The following morning I got a call to say they’d found something – curiously, it was on my left breast. It all happened so quickly. The following Monday they did an ultrasound and some biopsies and by Friday the consultant confirmed there were two malignant tumours on my left breast. It felt like hearing there was a time bomb inside me. I said, just get it out.
I had a mastectomy in November and came home to recover. Six weeks later I started chemo. There’s nothing pretty about chemo. For three days a week, I couldn’t get out of bed, but on the fourth, I made sure to get dressed – in clothes, not pyjamas – and got some fresh air.
Two weeks into my treatment, I was out walking with a friend when a big clump of hair came out in my hand. It was a windy day and I was terrified that the rest would blow away. When I got home, John shaved my head, after which I had a shower and a cry, and moved on.
What I found strange was that when I had no hair, my head and neck looked out of proportion with the rest of mr. I felt like a giraffe! But once I put something on my head and neck, everything was fine again. I decided on a hat, not a wig, because I’d heard so many stories about the wig being thrown into a drawer after a couple of wears.
I found nowhere in Wicklow or Wexford selling the kind of hats I wanted, so I got together with my friend, Jackie Reid, who’s a super-talented seamstress and dressmaker, and together we designed some really comfy hats in soft cotton with matching scarves.
Immediately, I felt more like myself again. It’s amazing what a boost it can give to your self-esteem to have a nice hat, scarf and bag when you have no hair, eyebrows or eyelashes. It’s the feel-good factor, it makes you feel normal. When you’re enduring the rigours of cancer treatment, small things can make a big difference.
I started radiation therapy in St Luke’s, where everyone would compliment me on my headgear. Not only did I feel more comfortable, it brought comfort to my family that I could walk out the door looking and feeling good when I could.
My family and friends were tremendously supportive, but while I was inundated with flowers and chocolates, the house quickly looked like a florist’s, and I was too nauseous for sweet treats. An idea started forming in my head that although these gifts were well meant, women undergoing chemo might appreciate a pretty hat and scarf more than pralines or posies. Jackie and I were on to something, so when my energy returned, we set up Bare Necessities.
We created the chic combination of a breathable cotton beanie that’s sensitive to exposed scalps, paired it with a headscarf to match and added a neck scarf to complete the look. The material is sourced in Ireland the items are handmade by us, and we’re slowly expanding the range to meet different needs.
All of our products are interchangeable and designed to be mixed and matched, catering to the individual’s personal style.
I still keep the day job, working four days a week in Arklow, and I devote at least one day a week to Bare Necessities. I’m not motivated by huge profit margins, but I’d like the business to grow because it’s borne out of love and concern for women who are going through what I went through.
To enter, Like Bare Necessities and Happy Magazine on Facebook and leave a comment on the competition post on the Happy Magazine Facebook page (so we know you have entered!). The winner will be announced on Thursday 7 June.
Jackie’s story, above, was first published in the Wicklow Woman Magazine Spring Issue, and is re-published here with permission.