Joy Magazine

Survivor with Style

Local teacher sews to inspire other women battling cancer
Judy O'Neill shows one of her hats for women who lose their hair during chemotherapy.  Photo by Jim Craven

While overcoming her battle with lymphoma, Judy O'Neill discovered a way to turn her passion for sewing into a business that helps other women cope with cancer.

"Sewing has always been a part of my life," says O'Neill, recalling her 15th birthday when she first received a Viking sewing machine. She and the Viking have been inseparable ever since.

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Judy O'Neill can be reached at 541-944-8185 or by e-mail at judyoneill@ymail.com

O'Neill used it to sew her school clothes, prom dresses, wedding dress and her children's baby clothes before she realized she could use it to start a business.

After teaching sewing at Whiteaker Middle School in Keizer for 16 years, O'Neill moved to Medford and started teaching at McLoughlin Middle School, then at Hedrick Middle School, where she currently teaches.

In 2008, O'Neill discovered she had cancer. When she lost her hair during chemotherapy treatments, she didn't want people to stare at her, but she didn't want to hide, either.

"It's like being naked and vulnerable," she says. "I didn't want to hide behind what I was going through. I wanted to face it head on without a wig."

She started using scarves but soon decided they were "unflattering." So O'Neill brought out the reliable, old Viking to help her tackle chemotherapy in style. Her creativity resulted in unique hats that made her feel more confident, stylish and comfortable.

Several compliments later — and bolstered by encouragement from friends and family — O'Neill's business, Le Chapeau Chemeau, was born.

She calls her creations "chemo hats for women who like options."

"I was always described as Miss Matchy-Matchy," O'Neill says. Her chemo hats come in various reversible patterns with interchangeable headbands to give women options and individuality. She plans on adding a kids' line soon with fun, hip patterns.

"Women feel good when they look their best," says O'Neill, who hopes her hats will give women the confidence they need to get through losing their hair during chemotherapy. "They don't need to let losing their hair get them down."

Judy O'Neill can be reached at 541-944-8185 or by e-mail at judyoneill@ymail.com


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