Rosalind Duane

November 10, 2013

Cathie Easdown has seen first-hand the effects of cancer and its treatment.Her mother and aunt battled the disease, and her cousin has recently been diagnosed.

Inspired by their journey, the West Vancouver mother of two says she opened her store Compassionate Beauty in Vancouver last year to provide a comforting environment and one-stop shop for various products and services, such as mastectomy bras, breast prosthesis, swimsuits, yoga wear, night wear, and wigs, as well as non-invasive pedicures and manicures. Featured services include lymphatic massage by a registered massage therapist and medical tattooing, such as eyebrow tattoos for people who have lost their hair.

Easdown calls her space an oncology boutique spa, and notes that it is specifically designed for those undergoing cancer treatment, paying particular attention to their unique needs. "I've had a couple of clients that have come in and they just don't feel comfortable going to their usual spas while they're undergoing treatment. They find it much more comfortable in an environment such as this," she explains.

Easdown is a former mental health nurse who decided to open her franchise after hearing from her cousin in Calgary about the spa in that city that provided a comforting place for her. The Vancouver location is open to everyone, not just those undergoing cancer treatment.Working with clients has been rewarding because "when they walk out the door they feel great," says Easdown. "If we can help people get through this (then) that is extremely rewarding for me."                                                        

© Copyright 2013


New oncology spa and boutique helps women battling cancers. LAUREN KRAMER

Compassionate Beauty, the city’s first oncology boutique and spa, had its grand opening this month in Kitsilano. But president and founder Saundra Shapiro is already looking forward to the day she can go out of business. “Our slogan is, ‘Unfortunately, we’re open,’” she said. “We’re sad to be here because cancer is so prevalent, but there needs to be a store here for all these women. We’re humbled to help them through a really scary time in their lives.”

Shapiro, a Calgary resident who opened Compassionate Beauty in Calgary in 2005, is an entrepreneur dedicated to providing a unique centre for women undergoing cancer treatment. Her spa and boutique offers mastectomy fitting, wig fitting, an esthetician, a cosmetician, a massage therapist and tattooing services. The store also offers swimwear, yoga wear, lingerie, sports clothes and other apparel for women with cancer.

It turns out, her own mother is one of her best clients. “When we first opened, my mother, who had never had cancer, used to spend days with me at the store.  She never understood why I would want to open a store like Compassionate Beauty,” Shapiro said. “A year later she was diagnosed with lung cancer, and one year after that was cured, she was diagnosed with lymphoma, then breast cancer, and now her lymphoma has returned.

“For women in treatment, their immune system is compromised so they can’t have a regular spa treatment – but they still want it,” Shapiro said. “We found ways and products to ensure their safety and still give them the services they’re used to getting.”

Shapiro’s staff is specially trained to deal with women undergoing cancer treatment. The massage therapists, for example, are trained with manual lymphatic drainage, which is important for a woman who has had surgery affecting the lymph nodes. The estheticians understand what is and what isn’t safe and the tattoo artists do lots of areola tattooing after breast reconstruction, and eyebrow tattooing for women who lost their eyebrows during chemotherapy, but want to keep the look they had previously. Wig fitters at Compassionate Beauty are trained to cut wigs, do bonding and custom fit the wigs so they are comfortable to wear. The 1,700-square-foot Vancouver store at 1683 Chestnut St. has an inventory of 200 wigs and will have a staff of eight, offering service in English, Mandarin, Cantonese and Vietnamese.

Opened in September, it’s a franchise operated by Cathie Easdown, who worked previously as a clinical nurse for 20 years. “I think she brings great things to the store,” said Shapiro. “She’s got an in-depth background dealing with the health system and, unfortunately, she’s been touched by this disease in her own family. I’m confident she’ll bring that out in her staffing and the whole environment of the store.”

“My mother and aunt were diagnosed with breast cancer and I’ve had a lot of cancer in my personal family and friends,” explained Easdown. While in Calgary last spring, she learned about Compassionate Beauty and thought it a wonderful idea, something that could help her give back to women with cancer.

“I know firsthand about cancer,” she said. “I wish my family members could have experienced this store, because it’s such a wonderful feeling, to come into a store like this and have everything you could possibly need while going through treatment, from a beauty and feel-good standpoint.”

Shapiro, a Montreal native, moved to Alberta in 1982, where she opened hair salons specializing in children. Then she learned that her best friend from childhood, Louise, was diagnosed with recurrent cervical cancer. Over the next year, the two friends brainstormed about the things women would want at a store like Compassionate Beauty.

“One day in particular, Louise just wanted a facial but she wasn’t comfortable taking off her wig and laying on the esthetics bed,” Shaprio wrote on the Compassionate Beauty website about what she calls her “(sp)ahh-ha moment.” “She wanted to feel safe and accepted and have a sense of belonging, instead of standing out because of her visible effects of chemotherapy. Compassionate Beauty now has a facial room and happily loves every woman that has a treatment, with hair or without.”

After Louise lost her battle with cancer, Shapiro was determined to open the store, and the response has been tremendous. “From our first year we’ve quadrupled the number of women coming in,” she said. “We’ve seen over 11,000 women – pretty scary numbers – and now we have doctors, surgeons, oncologists and cancer hospitals behind us, referring patients to us.”

To date, Compassionate Beauty has a store in a cancer centre in Arizona, another opening next to Surrey Memorial Hospital and locations opening in Edmonton and Toronto – near Sunnybrook’s Odette Cancer Centre – in the next six months. Services are on par, price-wise, with those other stores and spas and Shapiro is determined not to be high-priced. “We want to be there for all different budgets so we have a range of differently priced services,” she explained. “But there’s a lot of support and financial assistance out there for women diagnosed with cancer, for example through Pharmacare and third-party insurances, for mastectomy products. It’s important for women to figure out who is covering them and what they’re covered for.”

While Compassionate Beauty specializes in what women with cancer are going through and what needs they have, Shapiro still hopes she can one day go out of business. “The day cancer is eradicated I’m going to close the store and sell it to a spa or salon with a big smile on my face, because there’s nothing worse than being diagnosed with cancer. The effect it has on family, friends and yourself – you can’t compare it to anything else.”

Lauren Kramer, an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Richmond, B.C. To read her work online, visit

by Carlito Pablo on Oct 23, 2013 at 11:15 am

Business wasn’t Catherine Easdown’s sole purpose in opening a boutique and spa for women with cancer.

Through her mother and other family members, she has seen the anguish felt by many after they’re diagnosed with the disease. She has also seen the side effects of treatment, and the distress these conditions cause.

“I experienced what it was like when they were going through their journeys,” Easdown told the Georgia Straight.

Hair loss during chemotherapy is crushing for many women. Having one or both breasts removed through surgery can be devastating. With Compassionate Beauty, which Easdown said is the first of its kind in Vancouver, the former nurse wants to make women feel better.

Located at 1683 Chestnut Street, her shop provides a measure of privacy when shopping for products like hats, wigs, and lingerie, as well as services such as massages, facials, and nail-polishing.

“Some women don’t feel comfortable going to the regular spa or hair salon while they’re going through treatment,” Easdown said.

Head shaves are offered at this franchise of the original Compassionate Beauty in Calgary. It was this service that inspired company owner Saundra Shapiro to establish a boutique and spa for women living with cancer.

Shapiro relates on her Alberta firm’s website that when she was operating a family salon, a client declared that her ovarian cancer had recurred. “That Sunday, we closed the store, dimmed the lights, put soft music on, and I lovingly shaved her head,” she recalls. “As I was doing so, I wondered what her choices were. Where else could she have gone?”

Pampering for women with breast cancer is a major component of services offered at Easdown’s shop. According to the Breast Cancer Society of Canada, this cancer is the most common one among Canadian women. The organization estimates that 28,800 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013; five thousand will die from the disease this year.

The society also projects that one in nine Canadian women may develop breast cancer, and one in 29 of them will not survive.

Easdown learned about Compassionate Beauty from a cousin in Calgary who was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her relative went to the store there and told Easdown that she had had a wonderful experience. “So I saw the opportunity here and said this is what I wanted to do,” Easdown said.

In a fitting room, she shows a breast form made of silicone. The material is inserted in bras to give women a full figure after one or both of their breasts have been removed. “They come in all different sizes and shapes,” she said about the prostheses.

Then she went to a room where her staff had taken a delivery of yoga­wear designed to fit breast forms. A bra made of lace was one of the many items in the store’s main display space.

Easdown agreed with a suggestion that her establishment, which will have its grand-opening reception early Thursday (October 24) evening, can help a woman regain her confidence.

Beauty more than skin deep at unique boutique

Luke Brocki, 24 hours

Saundra Shapiro started Compassionate Beauty in Calgary in 2006 after her best friend died of cervical cancer. The new Vancouver location, the first in a franchise. offers boutique beauty products and services to women fight the disease. (LUKE BROCKI/ 24 HOURS)

“Unfortunately we’re open,” Saundra Shapiro laments inside Vancouver’s newest beauty boutique, a facility that stands apart from others in Kitsilano by catering exclusively to women fighting cancer.

While a violin concerto plays through some speakers, wall-mounted lamps bathe the mocha-coloured shop walls in soft light. Post-mastectomy bras, wigs and yoga wear hang on racks along one wall. Other rooms offer breast forms, lingerie and private fitting areas, hair washing and styling stations, and a massage table. A little tattoo parlour promises eyebrows — the kind chemotherapy cannot take away.

“My best friend was diagnosed with cervical cancer and during her year-long journey through it, we figured out all of the things she was looking for and didn’t have,” Shapiro said. “She wanted a facial, but she was bald and too embarrassed to lay down for her aesthetician. Her massage therapist was too afraid to touch her because he didn’t know enough about cancer.”

Her friend died in 2004. The following year, doctors found cancer in the tissue of Shapiro’s face. She was one of the lucky ones; a tiny scar on her left cheek is all that remains after the surgery that saved her life.

Those two events made the entrepreneur pivot her business focus from children’s hairdressing to cancer care. Shapiro founded Compassionate Beauty in Calgary in 2006, then expanded into Arizona two years later. The Vancouver store is the first in what she hopes will become a national franchise.

October is breast cancer awareness month and has brought everything from pink jerseys on professional athletes to pink light displays at the White House, efforts to raise awareness and boost research funding for the disease. For those already fighting it though, Shapiro notes, attentive one-on-one care is perhaps the most important service.

“Cancer is huge, scary and unfortunately not going away. Women really need a team of experts to rally around them,” Shapiro said standing in the centre of the shop, where wine glasses and bottles of red await a grand-opening reception.

“It’s really one person at a time, one bra-fitting at a time,” she said. “Ten thousand women have told me so.”