By the time a third client within two years turned up at Balance Salon in Southwick, Massachusetts, with a breast cancer diagnosis, owner Susan Manolakis was pretty good at leading her over the rough terrain of hair changes during treatment. Manolakis had already supported the first two clients—dealing with their hair falling out, helping them to find wigs and just listening to their stories—and the experience affected her deeply.
“It felt chronic,” Manolakis remembers. “I realized there was a huge void in service, products and availability to these clients.” She changed her salon’s name to Balance Cancer and Wellness Salon and Boutique and began specializing in wigs and other needs not only for breast cancer patients, but for all people in chemotherapy as well as those experiencing alopecia. One of her stylists stayed with her for the new adventure.
“We shave patients’ hair at no charge, distribute information and offer a full line of cancer and wellness clothing,” Manolakis explains. “Three large, local hospitals refer patients to us, and once a month we provide beauty services onsite at a hospital.”
After 22 years as a cosmetologist and 15 years running Balance as a typical salon, Manolakis finds her new business extremely rewarding. “Being any kind of hairdresser is great,” she says. “You set your own hours, you make great connections with people and everyone looks better on their way out than on their way in. But this side of the business is really gratifying. We have people come from Connecticut and throughout the greater Springfield area for these services.”
Although the salon’s clientele includes guests without health issues, the atmosphere has changed. “We don’t have the high-energy salon vibe that we used to have,” Manolakis says. “The music isn’t as loud; everything is more calm. Sometimes it really hits you when a client isn’t doing well. If someone misses an appointment, I’ll send an email but maybe not hear anything back. That feels sad, but it’s part of this.”
The gratification is there even with clients who never use the salon’s services after coming in to purchase wigs or prosthetics. “I tell all of these clients that there is no wrong way to do this,” Manolakis remarks. “There’s no wrong way to react to the diagnosis or handle the illness.”
One woman who had lost her hair asked Manolakis to show her how to apply makeup to make it look as if she had eyelashes and eyebrows.“I did her makeup, and when I turned her around to the mirror she teared up,” Manolakis recalls. “She exclaimed, ‘I look like myself again!’ Everyone in the salon told her not to cry or she’d ruin her new makeup! It was a great moment in the salon.”