Thursday, October 17, 2013

Mondays At Racine

I posted this on my facebook page  but I thought I'd mention it here because it is so good.  I highly suggest that those of you with HBO record (or, hey, even watch live!) the documentary Mondays at Racine.

It is about a salon run by sisters,  Rachel Demolfetto and Cynthia Sensone, whose mother struggled with breast cancer.  They decided that one Monday a month, they would open their salon to cancer patients and give them free services, from pedicures to head shaving.   While the documentary starts with the sisters, the story really focuses on two cancer patients, Cambria, a young mother just diagnosed with Stage 3 cancer, and Linda, 58, a woman who astonishingly, has survived 17 years with metastatic breast cancer.

It's hard to write this review without spoilers, but let me say that watching Cambria's story took me straight back to the early days of my cancer diagnosis, when my son was young and all was unknown.  But Linda's story is the one that stays with me - 17 years of treatment seems unimaginable to me.  She admitted that she had done 15 chemos by filming - that is 8 more than I've done.  While my goal has never been 17 years, it is always in the back of my mind that some women are statistical outliers and somebody has to be one - maybe it could be me.  But, after seeing her difficulty, I couldn't help but think that some things might be more difficult than death - I'm not sure I could manage this for 17 years - life with this pain, this exhaustion, and with what it does to your family.

Back to the salon:  the women are made to feel beautiful and more importantly - normal -  and they find comfort in a place that caters just to them. They go back to hold the hands of tearful newbies who are having their heads shaved for the first time, Cambria now experienced and with her short, chemo-curly do.

The story ends on a realistic note, as a documentary will do.  I do not think there is a breast cancer patient in the world who won't relate to what these women go through, and also who won't feel grateful for the sisters who provide such a  calming refuge in such a frightening storm.

Mondays at Racine is on HBO, which means you can still catch it:  the 18th, the 20th, 21st and 26th and also on HBO 2 on the 19th and 24th.

When you watch it, let me know what you thought.   Don't read the comments if you don't want spoilers!

Also, I wanted to add that based on a couple of comments, the show, and my own experience, hairstylists seem to be special people.  My own stylist, Cynthia, did my buzz cut when I was going bald at no charge. She made it as easy on me as it could be, styled my many wigs, also at no charge and didn't laugh at me when I pulled them out.  (I originally bought a bunch of cheap ones in many styles and colors, not understanding what wearing them would entail.)   I've practically have to beg her to charge me since my diagnosis. Feel free to check the link out, like her on facebook (she shows photos of her styles and somewhere I'm on there - on of the few times I look good)  and go see her if you are in Sacramento.  She deserves all the accolades she can get.   Tell her I sent you, she does a wonderful job.


  1. Just watched it, very powerful. My heart went out to Linda, she was so strong but he gave up. I am so fortunate to have a wonderful supportive husband, how he puts up with me I don't know! My hair stylist also offers support for cancer patients. She wouldn't accept payment when I told her I needed to be "buzzed" (my husband did the final shave), nor would she accept anything when my hair was coming back - not until she could give me a proper haircut. She has done this for 38 other cancer patients, and we live in a smallish town.
    Thanks for recommending this and hope all is going well for you

    1. I was really empathizing with Linda. My first thought was "OMG this poor lady has been in treatment for 17 years? 15 chemos? I couldn't do it." At the same time, I was thinking "Wow, she got 17 years, and it's in her LUNGS, how often does that happen?" But when she quit, I was yelling at the screen, "You made it 17 years, don't stop now!" because I liked her so much. Life is complicated but I think what her husband did played into her decision. And if I was conflicted, I can only imagine what she was and how very very tired she must have been. I've only been at it for four years and it's unimaginably hard and exhausting - I couldn't have understood how hard 4 years ago and would have thought there is no reason to ever quit. I know better now; it's horribly difficult to do treatment year after year.. You absolutely need the strong support of your family by your side to continue on and appears she didn't have that. But it's possible she just got too tired which I understand.

      Just hoping Cambria is like my Stage IIIc friend who also has young ones - it's been four years and she's cancer-free. Let's hope they both stay that way.

      I added a shout-out to my own wonderful stylist in the post. She deserves it. Apparently, many of them have big hearts.

  2. my hairdresser went with me to pick out my wig, and then trimmed it at no charge, and did first couple of trims post-chemo at no charge. His mom died of BC and he wants to give back to help other people. He was a total godsend to me at a very dark time.

  3. My hairdresser has been my biggest cheerleader for the past 18 months. He helped me decide when it was time to buzz, helped me choose a wig, gave it an awesome cut, and has supported me through everything ... now I'm growing out my chemo curls and he's as sensitive and encouraging as ever, while giving me good advice.

    If I end up doing multiple treatments in Stage IV, I know he'll be with me every step of the way.

  4. loved the movie Ann! thank you for the recommendation. I cried so many times - especially when the girls were getting their head shaved. Such a powerful visual of what it really means to have cancer - how ugly it is and how much it takes from us. I know its only hair but it just represents so much more. My hairdresser came to my house to cut my hair really short (I didn't want to shave it) I told her I need to do it in private. My good friend was there and we all cried, her included
    Linda's decision to end treatment and her discussion with her oncologist made me think that most doctors don't understand that quality of life is important too. I always say that these medical professionals need to walk a mile in our shoes and really understand what these therapies do to us. Not that we wouldn't take them ( I did it all) but some compassion and empathy would go a long way. It was an difficult decision she made but I felt as though she may have been second guessing due to his reaction

    1. "Linda's decision to end treatment and her discussion with her oncologist made me think that most doctors don't understand that quality of life is important too"

      I have been fortunate to have my treatment at apparently the best hospital for BC in the country, and I would say that there are definitely moves towards understanding the patient who refuses further treatment. There were a number of discussions about quality of life, rather than quantity. As I was Stage 2 I did not have to make any REALLY difficult decisions.

      On the subject of hair - my son chopped it off with a pair of sewing scissors - no ceremony, no tears - it was covered all the time anyway. It was the loss of eyebrows and eyelashes I found the saddest as it made me look ill. I guess we all have different reactions to the things we have to deal with.


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