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Women at Work: Lorraine O’Brien

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When Lorraine O’Brien won her battle against breast cancer it felt as though she’d been given a “second chance”.

“My whole attitude to life changed, and I felt any fear of the unknown was removed,” the mother of two says.

It also meant when the opportunity arose to buy a local beauty business on the market, she didn’t second-guess herself.

“Before cancer I probably would have never done something that risky, but because I had a new outlook on everything, I didn’t wait – I just went for it,” says Lorraine.

For just over two years Lorraine and her daughter Kate have run Brazilian Butterfly Canberra City, in Garema Place. Lorraine says she tried to take it from “your typical salon” to the go-to beauty spot for busy office workers; open late nights for waxing, tinting, laser treatments and spray tans. So far it seems to be working: last year, the business beat 32 other Brazilian Butterfly salons around Australia to win the award for Franchise of the Year.

When I meet with Lorraine in person it’s easy to warm to her, with her down-to-earth approach, infectious laugh and lilting Scottish accent. Because of that merry charm, it’s surprising when she eventually reveals all the struggles she has had to overcome in her life.

Born and raised in Scotland, Lorraine says she never returned home after visiting relatives in Canberra for a working holiday when she was 19.

“I just loved it here so much, and then I met my husband and had kids, so it became home,” she says.

Lorraine was a stay at home mum for years before taking on an administrative role at the University of Canberra.

At 47 she decided to study a business administration degree, realising her potential to do “something more,” and later worked as a marketing manager for the Centre for Customs and Excise Studies.

In 2010, tragedy stuck: her husband, Eddie, passed away.

“That had a huge affect on all of us,” Lorraine says.

“Some time after that in 2011, I was made redundant. So, I had no husband, no job and two teenagers, all within a year.”

A third blow came shortly after Lorraine started working at the Australian National University, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

After successfully completing radiation treatment in 2012, she felt she needed a change and wanted to do something for herself.

“This business felt like the right thing to do, because it was something I had wanted for a long time,” she says.

“Even when I was diagnosed, I never really let it get me down – I saw it as a challenge.”

Now, Lorraine says she loves every minute of her job, where she often works 12 hour days.

While her daughter manages the team of 10 staff, Lorraine handles the financial side of the business and her 24 year old son Patrick, although not employed by Brazilian Butterfly directly, helps to promote the business.

Lorraine believes what sets them apart from other salons is that the therapists are trained to be quick – usually 20 minutes or less – and consistent.

“We get so many busy office workers who just want to get in and out, so we make sure we never keep them waiting,” says Lorraine.

“I also think another thing that sets us apart is the fact that more men come here for Brazilians – we’re really noticing an increase in male grooming.”

Lorraine is on the board of the ACT Eden Monaro Cancer Support Group and says she does volunteer work whenever she can.

“I also like our business to sponsor local events and charities – because we’re a local, family-run business, I feel it’s important we support local organisations,” she says.

Outside of work, Lorraine says she tries to keep fit and catch up with friends.

“It does sound a bit cliché, but after the cancer I really value the time with my friends and try not to put dates off – I always make a point of catching up, because you realise what’s important,” she says.

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