Back in my grandmother's day the beauty salon was more than a place to get your hair done. In fact, back then it was called the beauty "parlor," and it was a place where she would gather with a community of women who were presumably all on her cut and blow schedule. They exchanged information, advice and support. My beauty parlor moments are more like stops at a pit crew, where I hop out of my car and they highlight, trim and send me on my way. I'd forgotten all about that other kind of experience until I was invited to visit Mondays With Sole Ryeders last week at Beauty Bar & Salon in Port Chester, NY.
One Monday per month Stacy Sakellariou, owner of Beauty Bar, opens her salon to provide complimentary services to women who are battling cancer. Sole Ryeders started this program, which is modeled after Mondays at Racine on Long Island, as a natural extension of its fundraising to advance cancer research and to support women battling cancer. What they've created is the atmosphere of the beauty parlor of old, a space for women to gather for information, advice, support and some pampering.
Clients are welcomed into the salon with hugs. It feels a bit like walking into your mother's home, a place where you can let down your guard and be cared for. Stacy takes women to her chair to trim and style hair or wigs. A make up artist and manicurist are on hand, as is a masseuse who understands the particular aches and pains associated with undergoing treatment. There is a womb-like feeling in this salon, a sense of being wrapped up and nurtured.
One client explained to me that when you are diagnosed with cancer you feel as if you are instantly transformed from being a person to being a sick person. Your life becomes about battling your disease, the emotional and physical strain of which can be overwhelming. These Mondays have offered her a break and a chance to get back in touch with what feels good in her life. Another woman commented, while admiring her made-over face in the mirror, that she'd spent so much time feeling sick that she'd forgotten what it was like to feel like herself.
Perhaps the most invaluable service offered on Mondays With Sole Ryeders is the support from the women who have been through this themselves. Many of the practitioners and volunteers are cancer survivors. They offer compassionate nods, "Yes, I remember that part. I felt that way too. It gets better." In this way the survivors seem to be gently pulling these women through, giving them hope by showing them what it looks like from the other side.
Women linger over homemade soup.They tell stories and update each other on their progress. They try on wigs and ask for consensus on which is too red, which is just right. They gather around the woman who's decided to shave her head in advance of losing her hair. They agree that it will be "less devastating," but then laugh at the choice of words. Devastating is devastating. But if there is a way to ameliorate devastation, it is to be found here at this salon.
The 12-year-old daughter of one of the volunteers made a basket of beaded bracelets as a gift for Monday's clients. Her mother had survived cancer, and she said she just felt like she wanted to do something. I think we all just want to do something. It is a unique kind of agony to stand by, powerless, and watch someone you love suffer. I imagine the relief to the caregivers and children at seeing these women arrive home in the afternoon relaxed and manicured. The pampering provided to these women extends way beyond just their clients but to their families as well, as a momentary break from the worry.
More than anything it was just a day at the beauty parlor, a community of women exchanging information and support. It was a day of beauty in the purest sense.