Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

By Lisa Britton

For the Baker City Herald

Nancy Buehler perches the wide-brimmed hat on her head, tilting it just a bit for flair.

Buehler is a breast cancer survivor - five years, as of July 2012.

She doesn't need hats anymore, but Buehler is now The Hat Keeper, sharing her collection with others who lose their hair during treatment for cancer.

Her story starts nine years ago, when her friend, Judy, was diagnosed with breast cancer and lost her hair in treatment.

Buehler's sister-in-law Ronda, who has non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and has lost her hair three times, suggested a hat party.

Buehler did just that, inviting women to bring a hat for Judy.

"Little did I know that three years later I was going to start my own hat collection," she says.

She was diagnosed with breast cancer on Jan. 3, 2007, after a mammogram discovered a tumor. An MRI showed another in her other breast. She was 49.

After a double mastectomy, the doctors discovered two more cancerous tumors. Fortunately, it hadn't spread to her lymph nodes.

When her hair thinned after the first chemotherapy treatment, she decided to shave it off.

She did try a wig to cover her bald head.

"I looked like a Beatle. Not a pretty sight."

Hats became her new accessory.

"My hat had to match my outfit. If I couldn't find a hat to match, I would change my outfit."

Her favorites were soft knit caps wrapped with other colors of fabric in a simple turban style.

Her sister also made her many kerchief-style hats in a variety of colors.

When her hair started to grow back, she had a hard time letting go of the hats.

"I was scared to go out in public looking like a chemo head," she said. "But once I let go, I felt relieved."

She packed her hats away.

"I collected all my hats and put them in a box in my closet, hoping never to use them again."

But those hats had another purpose.

After moving to Baker City several years ago, Buehler met Cheryl Fisher.

"When Cheryl was diagnosed with cancer, I told her I had plenty of hats she could use."

And her collection had grown - she'd inherited more when her sister-in-law, Linda, died of lung cancer.

One of Linda's favorites was a black beret.

"I took Linda's black beret and put it on Cheryl's head. The hat was made for Cheryl," Buehler said.

Cheryl's favorite from the collection was a soft white hat with an angel.

"I told Cheryl that I bought the hat for myself and never wore it," Buehler said. "I didn't know Cheryl when I bought it, but it was definitely meant for her to wear."

And so went the traveling hats - three others in the community have snugged a soft cap on their heads, a comfort during chemotherapy.

And every time the hats come back, Buehler notices a few extras tucked inside the boxes.

"These boxes of hats have started to have a life of their own," she said. "I am the hat keeper, and if you know of someone who needs a hat to help them through their hairless journey, let me know."