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West Hartford Women Form Salon Days for Cancer Patients

Rachel Marcus overcame breast cancer with the help of her friends. Together, they are now helping other women fighting the disease with Mondays @ Milano.

From left to right: Cindy Horowitz, Rachel Marcus and Ronit Shoham
From left to right: Cindy Horowitz, Rachel Marcus and Ronit Shoham

In addition to the obvious physical implications, the fight against cancer is a psychological one.

No one knows that better than West Hartford resident Rachel Marcus, who learned in June 2012 that she had breast cancer.

Flash forward a year and a half later, and Marcus is now cancer-free.

But she concedes that she never would have been able to do it - the multiple surgeries and chemo treatments - without the support of a closely knit group of friends.

“I only could have done this with my friends and family,” said Marcus, a social worker by trade, in an interview at the Bishops Corner Starbucks last Friday. “Accepting help from other people is not easy. … It’s so hard to really surrender yourself, but you cannot do it alone.”

During Marcus’ chemotherapy, friends like Ronit Shoham, Carrie Shaw, Ayelet Chozik, Sharon Conway and Cindy Horowitz fought to take Marcus to her chemotherapy sessions at the Wethersfield Infusion Center.

And despite Marcus’ condition, laughter, of all things, was in abundance. The nine women shared jokes, gifts and quality time. They chased each other around parking lots to give one another money to cover lunch. They played games with a not-so-savory deck of cards provided by Horowitz.

They laughed some more.

“It was actually fun - if you can call going to chemo fun,” said Shoham. “It really gave us quality time to spend with her. It made her day, but it became special time. Even though it helped Rachel, it helped me too. When you see a friend go through something like this, you feel helpless. You really want to take the burden away or share the pain. Doing something makes you feel better about it.”

Through it all, Shoham said, Marcus kept an amazing attitude. She made hats for herself when she lost her hair. She gave gifts to her friends when they came with her to chemo treatments. She laughed along with her friends.

“Rachel kept an amazingly positive attitude,” Shoham said. “She took lemons and made them into lemonade.”

The story - women rally around friend stricken with cancer - would be remarkable if it just ended there.

But it doesn’t.

About six months ago, Shoham got a DVD copy of “Mondays at Racine,” which tells the story of two sisters who open the doors of their salon on Long Island every third Monday of the month to women with cancer and provide them with needed beauty support.

“[The salon] became a place of comfort and warmth,” Shoham said. “It’s an incredibly powerful documentary.”

Marcus and her friends were so inspired by the endeavor that they decided to start their own group - the 501(c)3 pending Cut Out Cancer of CT Inc. - to “recreate” Racine’s experience in the Greater Hartford area.

So, on Oct. 22, the group of friends screened Mondays at Racine at the University of Hartford in front of 150 people. After the screening, the group announced that it was launching Mondays @ Milano.

Milano Salon & Day Spa in Bloomfield will, starting in January, provide services to women undergoing cancer treatment one Monday a month. The services are donated by the salon and a group of people who just want to help.

Marcus said that chemotherapy changes your body so drastically, the salon services will be invaluable to women.

“[Chemo is] extremely taxing,” she said. “You lose your hair. “I used to have long blonde hair. Losing it was a huge ordeal. I don’t want to minimize having a mastectomy. But for me, it was just as huge losing my look - my outward look. … When you have chemo, you have that look. People know you are going to chemo. There’s a treatment look.”

Since the screening of the documentary at the University of Hartford, the outpouring from the community has been unbelievable, Shoham said.

People want to make food for when Mondays @ Milano kicks off. An attorney set up the 501(c)(3) pro bono. Businesses want to help fundraise to cover the overhead for the non-profit. One person, according to Shoham, wants to volunteer her time to help interpret if a deaf woman with cancer drops in.

“It’s growing faster than we can answer e-mail and texts,” Marcus said.

“Dozens of people have contacted us,” Shoham chimed in. “It’s really unbelievable.”

The group of friends are entirely on board with the project as well.

“I’m the luckiest person in the world,” Horowitz said. “We love doing this.”

Marcus, for her part, said that she has one more surgery in the next two or three months, but that she feels “awesome.”

“I’m healthy and good,” she said. “Last year was about getting better. This year is about rebuilding and getting stronger. And reclaiming my body again.”

For more information on Cut Out Cancer of CT, visit its Facebook page here or e-mail cutoutcancer@gmail.com.
csmulski October 28, 2013 at 01:30 PM
This is such a great idea! I am most grateful that it is not limited to just breast cancer. There are so many groups, organizations, charities that only accept women with breast cancer. Unfortunately, many women who are facing cancer who are not celebrated with a month, ribbon, color, etc. When faced with cancer ALL women need support. Thank you forming an inclusive organization!

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