When 15-year-old Gale Banks finished treatment for bone cancer in 2010, she didn’t feel particularly pretty.
She was pale, gaunt and had lost her hair. She did not want to go out in public where she would be stared at. So she went looking for a head cover within the walls of the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre.
“It’s not very large but I don’t think that matters because what it lacks in size it makes up for in quantity and character,” said Banks, describing the hospital’s hat room.
“There are hundreds of hats in there — there are fun hats, some hats for men, lots of toques and there’s a small dresser with a mirror and a chair and you can sit there and try hats on for as long as you like.”
The hat room has been a part of the hospital since 2006. Cancer patients can go there after treatment to choose any of the donated hats.
For patients like Banks, the room is a source of comfort during what is often a devastating and stressful time.
“It’s nice to know that somebody’s thought of something a little bit extra that’s not necessarily medical but it kind of warms your heart,” Banks said.
That somebody is Sharon Schultz.
Schultz got the idea for the hat room while supporting her sister during her struggle with breast cancer.
Her sister did not like wigs, so she wore lots of hats.
“Hats were something that made her feel almost a sense of normalcy because she could go out in public with a really cool hat on and people just thought she was fashionable,” Schultz said. “They didn’t necessarily think there was much going on under that hat.”
Schultz said she believed other cancer patients felt the same way. She sent out an email to friends and family asking if people would donate hats to cancer patients. Within a week, Schultz had received 80 hats.
Schultz approached nurses at the Red Deer hospital and was able to put the hats in a small room where patients could go after treatment.
The room has remained well-stocked over the years and patients are welcome to stay as long as they like and take as many hats as they want.
“I think most people find it a time for some reflection and it’s quiet, nobody rushes them and they get to shop without the fear of other people around them staring at them,” Schultz said.
Schultz now wants to expand the idea to cancer treatment centres in Edmonton and Calgary.
Hats are donated to the room each year at a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Guests attending the tea and silent auction are invited to wear a hat and then donate it.
The third annual event is scheduled to take place on Saturday, April 9, at Holiday Inn on 67th Street. Already, all 320 seats have sold out, making it the largest event yet.