Mondays are still special at Racine Salon in Islip.
For sisters Cynthia Sansone and Rachel DeMolfetto, who opened the salon in 1998, Mondays used to be their day off. But in 2003 they initiated a Mondays at Racine program, offering free services to women undergoing cancer treatment in an effort to combat the physical side effects and emotional fallout that come with harsh regimens like radiation and chemotherapy. They’d seen their mom, Mildred DeMolfetto, lose a sense of her femininity before succumbing to cancer in 1989 at age 58. Reminding women of their womanhood can make a huge difference in the fight, they thought.
And it has.
“I went every month during treatment,” says Nicole Seaman, a breast cancer survivor from Ronkonkoma. On her first visit they washed her hair, because she couldn’t lift her arms after surgery. She later returned for a facial, massage, and makeup tutorials. “All the women there are either going through treatment or just out, so it’s a nice place to decompress,” says Seaman.
To date, some 8,000 clients have received free services, and the program was featured in an Oscar-nominated documentary. The program now includes barber services for male cancer patients, and satellite programs at other Long Island salons. (For info, visit mondaysatracine.org)
Sansone also created a toxin-free beauty line — Life on Mars Beauty — designed to address the needs of women in and out of treatment, “so they can be the CEOs of their own bodies,” she says.
All this, because the process of fighting cancer can take a real toll on a woman’s self-image, thanks to hair loss, skin sensitivities and figure-altering surgery. With October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, three survivors share how they conquered cancer — and their fears of how they’d look, which can linger long after treatment.
NICOLE SEAMAN, Ronkonkoma
The discovery: Seaman, a police officer in Queens, noticed a lump during her pregnancy. She was diagnosed with stage 2 triple-negative breast cancer, an aggressive form of the disease, last year — just five weeks after giving birth to her son, Michael.
Treatment: Double mastectomy, then six months of chemo. This past June she got implants.
Her hair: “I lost my hair 10 days after starting chemo. I never wore a wig. I never hid the fact I lost my hair. I was proud of it. I owned it. Other people expect us to cover up. Once you listen to yourself, I think it gets a lot easier.”
Her figure: “At work, I dress like a guy every day. And people look at me like I’m a guy. So when I was home with my husband, I liked to look feminine. I was blessed with a nice figure. It was tough to have that taken away, and to have to stop breastfeeding. I wasn’t sure if I’d feel feminine again.”
Turning point: “Last year, I went to a gala for World of Pink (a Melville health facility dedicated to breast aftercare). I walked in their fashion show with my cancer surgeon and never felt more confident. No hair, no makeup. It didn’t matter. Being alive is beautiful.”
MICHELE PASSARELLA, Southampton
The discovery: Passarella, a former model and now assistant medical staff coordinator at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, discovered a lump in her left breast in 2014. She was diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer.
Treatment: She underwent chemo, radiation, hormone therapy and a double-mastectomy. Later she received implants.
Her hair: “Trying to keep side effects (like hair loss) hidden was hard. I battled that. I’d walk around wearing no wig. It bothered a few. But that was their issue, not mine. It was almost like being in Vogue, wearing a suit, having a shiny scalp. It felt therapeutic feeling raindrops on my head.”
Her figure: “Fashion for me has changed. Before I could wear low-cut tops, whatever I’d want. Now I have to think twice. Skin folds and scars are visible, so I’m more conservative now.”
Turning point: "In 2017, I went to Authors Night in Bridgehampton (an annual literary celebration). All these authors were there — and Alec Baldwin — and I was wearing a beautiful pink taffeta dress. My shoulders were exposed, and the area where I had the scar was exposed. It felt comfortable, natural. The dress was so gorgeous, with a long slit in front — I felt like I was walking down a runway all over again.”
CHANTEL DIXON, Hempstead
The discovery: For years, Dixon, a wife and mother of two, and project controls analyst at PSEG Long Island, was an ardent breast cancer volunteer and team captain for The American Cancer Society's Making Strides walks (which her company helps sponsor). Dixon walked to honor her mother and cousin, who’d each been diagnosed with breast cancer. Then in 2015 she noticed a lump. She, too, was diagnosed with breast cancer — stage 3.
Treatment: Chemo, a right-breast mastectomy, radiation, left-breast mastectomy and now hormone therapy. She hopes to have reconstruction surgery early next year.
Her hair: “I worked through chemo, but I didn’t want to look sick. I didn’t want to be treated different. So what can I do? How can I look like me — as close to me as possible — going through the process? I opted to wear wigs.”
The makeup: “I’m not a makeup wearer. If it’s not a special occasion, I walk out the door with lip gloss. But then I lost my lashes and brows. It was a struggle. Trying to draw eyebrows on? And eyeliner? I felt like a 12-year-old with makeup. You don’t realize how much things like brows, lashes and your hairline help shape your face.”
Turning point: “The best thing was when my eyebrows started growing in. Oh my gosh, at that point, I had barely any hair on my head but I took the wig off. I just started feeling comfortable in my skin again. And the first time I went to the beach — after the second mastectomy …. I’d gone to a destination wedding in the Dominican Republic. I was nervous but put on the bathing suit and went outside — and felt great.”