There are times when facing an adverse situation can actually make a person stronger — into a warrior. Such is the case for Heidi Fuller. In 2015, at age 37, Heidi was living the good life. She had a strong marriage, a long-standing corporate career with Starbucks and the freedom to spend time with family and friends. All changed in September of that year when she received some shocking news: she had Stage 3 Uterine Cancer. She underwent a full radical hysterectomy and then began chemotherapy treatments. Many thoughts raced through her mind, but one question that weighed heavily: Will I lose my hair? Dealing with the fact that she would no longer have her beautiful blonde mane of hair was devastating. Eventually coming to terms with the inevitable, Heidi made an appointment for a wig consultation. She says the experience was not the best. She felt she didn’t receive the care needed to help a newly diagnosed cancer patient get through the process of wearing a wig. That’s when she began to formulate the idea to open a store for cancer patients. The result — Awakenings Boutique — a boutique with wigs, women’s clothing, cancer essentials and gifts that cater to cancer patients. This was just the beginning of Heidi’s fight against what she calls her cancer storm. She needed a way to stand up to cancer, but to also teach others how to stand up against their own storms. We are honored to welcome today’s FACE of Louisville, Heidi Fuller.
What was the turning point during your wig consultation that made you want to open your own store?
I scheduled my appointment to pick out some wigs, and I took a few friends with me. When we arrived, there was kind of a coldness in the air. It would have been nice if someone had just put their hand on my shoulder and said, “You’ve got this!” I picked out a wig and ordered another wig, and then I went home and cried for about four hours. I was just depressed and traumatized over losing my hair. You feel guilty for worrying about your hair. Yet, I also started thinking that there has to be a better place for cancer patients where they can get a wig or items that can help them with surgery. I wanted a place that helps them with their own storms — whether it’s against cancer or something else they’re facing.
What were the first steps in starting your business? What items do you offer?
It began as an online store, which launched in September 2016. I took $11,000 from our savings to buy products to create cancer baskets. The baskets have sayings printed, like “Chemo Crap,” and they’re filled with items like recovery robes, lavender spa items and skin care. The physical store opened the Friday of Memorial Day weekend in 2017. The store carries wigs, but also hair toppers, scarves, hats, bras and bathing suits that hold mastectomy forms, chemo port shirts, natural skincare, essential oils, caregiver products and specialty gifts.
Do you serve others besides cancer patients?
We service all of the alternative hair needs. Women with alopecia, women with thinning hair, women who haven’t left their home for years because they’ve had pieces of hair missing and faced depression over hair loss. It’s all about supporting these women.
What experience working in the corporate world has carried over into operating your own business?
I learned how to read people and help with their needs. When they walk in the door, I may not know them, but I know how to guide them through the store. I knew my customers and cared for them when I was working for Starbucks. I care about my customers here at Awakenings.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your business?
When you get that call from a customer to tell you that they now feel comfortable going on vacation because they have a wig, and they don’t feel ashamed. Or that when they came into my store, traumatized, thinking it was going to be the worst experience, that we made it fun for them.
How are you involved with supporting the cancer community?
One project I’d love to do is show the faces of the real women of cancer. I would love to do a photo shoot with cancer patients wearing the wigs or even bald. I also work with the Susan G. Komen Foundation, the American Cancer Society and Gilda’s Club. I’ve donated over 90 wigs to the Norton Cancer Institute as well.
Were there any positive changes in your life after you were diagnosed with cancer?
I became more grateful. I started to love in more ways that I didn’t know were possible. I started to gain so much more from having this diagnosis. I had a support team — we laughed, we made fun of each other. I promised cancer I would forever be its worst nightmare. I knew that I was going to start fighting for my life, and I was done feeling sorry for myself.
Shifting gears, what are some of your favorite things to do in Louisville?
I like to eat at places like Village Anchor and LouVino. I truly love going to TJ Maxx and Home Goods — you never know what you’ll find there. I just love having a girls’ day with my daughter, getting our nails done or going shopping.
What is something that people might be surprised to learn about you?
I love watching episodes of the TV show “Snapped.”
If you weren’t living in Louisville, where would you live and why?
I think I would like to live in Atlanta or somewhere just very different. They still have seasons, but they don’t get the snow and the ice. It’s hot there, like it is here, in the summer, but the winter’s mild. It’s a great city with a lot of great suburbs.
What are your favorite indulgences?
I cannot live without pizza. I love making my own pizza.
Would you like to open more Awakenings locations?
I’d like to find where the needs are and open more stores in Kentucky or support, coach and mentor other women who are opening boutiques.
What is your best piece of advice?
Find the blessings within the storm. When you start to count your blessings, that’s when you open your heart to a new perspective on life. Also, don’t feel as if you always have to be strong.
Besides faith, family and friends, name three things you can’t live without?
Contributing to the cancer community, my wigs and wine!
Thank you to Heidi for sharing your story with us. Awakenings is located at 9708 Brownsboro Road, Ste. 4604, Louisville, KY 40241. Learn more at awakenshop.com.
Thank you to Christine of Christine Mueller Photography for the beautiful photos of Heidi!
To be inspired by other great Louisville women, check out our other FACES of Louisville here.