Starting a hat-making business helped me cope with my terminal cancer diagnosis

Eufemia Didonato

To my surprise, the terminal diagnosis gave me the impetus to make the idea real. I was working in a job I loved, managing a store for a luxury leather and lifestyle brand, but my employers were supportive, helping me come up with branding ideas. A pair of bamboo socks we sold gave me the idea for the fabric to use for the hats: bamboo keeps you warm in winter and cool in summer and doesn’t irritate your hair follicles.

At a Christmas fair in 2019, I met a hatmaker who helped me to source bamboo and find an overseas factory. It was important to me that the colours were right: soft, flecked pastels so as not to wash out the pale skin that cancer patients get when they go through chemo.

These days, the business keeps me going as I sit through hospital appointments – in fact, it has helped me over the past few months more than ever, as Covid-19 has made cancer even lonelier.

Some days I wake up feeling as if I’ve been hit all over my body with a baseball bat – my arms and chest are so ravaged from years of treatment that I now have a permanent drug port installed in my chest. But then I focus on emailing suppliers, building my website and brand, and for a moment the pain subsides.

I don’t know how much longer I’ve got, but I’m determined to stay positive, and if a few thousand cancer sufferers are more comfortable thanks to Jeannie’s Beanies, that’s a good enough legacy for me. Some days I go to work meetings dressed in a suit and one of my own beanies and think to myself: ‘Jeannie, you rock it.’ 

As told to Sally Howard.

£5 of the profits from the sale of each beanie goes to The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity; jeanniebeanie.com

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