Even when their lives are at stake, one of the most difficult things for women being treated for cancer to handle is the loss of their hair. That's why two Long Island beauty salon owners offer their services for free to cancer patients one day a month.
The salon owners, sisters Cynthia Sansone and Rachel DeMolfetto, are the subject of the Oscar-nominated short documentary "Mondays At Racine," which will air on HBO tonight. The film follows the cancer patients who come to the sisters' beauty parlor once a month for a day of free beauty treatments.
The sisters came up with the idea more than 10 years ago as a way to honor their mother, who passed away from breast cancer in the 1980s.
Cynthia Sansone says that her mother initially felt like a pariah and an "alien" after her hair fell out from her cancer treatments.
"We did not have the tools to know how to help her. I remember vividly my father walking her into the house," said Sansone. "The grimace on her face."
Sansone says the idea behind the free day of beauty is to provide a support system for the cancer patients, most of whom are women, as they deal with a life-threatening illness.
"We got the script down on what we need to say to soothe and heal," said Sansone. "No one wants to [hear], 'You look good.' People want to hear, 'What can I do?'"
The film's director, Cynthia Wade, said the one common and most surprising response among the cancer patients she interviewed was that they were terrified of losing their hair. One patient even felt like she was being "erased" as a result of her cancer treatment.
"Every single woman I spoke to said it was much easier to lose their breast than their hair," said Wade.
Linda Hart has lived with breast cancer for nearly 19 years and has visited the Racine beauty salon once a month, every month for the last few years. In the film the 59-year-old is a striking presence as she counsels younger cancer patients and wrestles with the idea of stopping treatment altogether.
For Hart, going to the Racine salon allowed her to be open about her fears and concerns as a cancer patient and to help others going through the same thing.
"We sat and we cried and talked and laughed, and I felt like I had been there before," said Hart, speaking about her first visit.
After living with the disease for nearly two decades, Hart says she is encouraged that more women are open about their illness in these support groups.
"Years ago people weren't talking about, [they] held it in," said Hart. "Now [they let it] out. I pray it comes out even more."
Hart, who has lost her hair, eyebrows and eyelashes to cancer treatment, has also been treated to a full make-over at the salon, providing needed ego boost.
"I really looked great. Afterwards I put the wig on, I felt like a whole person," said Hart. "Once I was done-up, I felt alive again."