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Smilow Program is All About Beauty — Inside and Out

Lisa Baglini-Gurr, left, and Anne Marie Clang

For Ann Marie Clang of Oakdale, the fact that she would lose her hair was almost as emotionally devastating as finding out she had cancer. 

“There were a few really difficult steps in the process of wrapping my head around it,” said Clang, who was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma in December 2022. “The first was ‘I have cancer.’ The second was ‘I’m going to lose my breasts.’ Then it was “I’m going to lose my hair.’” 

Lisa Baglini-Gurr of Hamden, who received the same diagnosis earlier this year, initially had a similar response to the thought of losing her hair. “It hurt as it was shedding and I was terrified I was going to look awful,” she said. “But I finally shaved my head and after that I felt almost empowered. It was freeing.”

Both women recently attended the Beyond Beauty Program, a new workshop offered to patients who are receiving treatment at Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale New Haven. The free program is designed to address the visual side effects, challenges and changes experienced during cancer treatment. The two-hour sessions are facilitated by licensed cosmetologists and certified hair and wig specialists from Yale New Haven Health. The program is sponsored by Smilow’s Cingari Family Boutique with additional funding provided by the Yale New Haven Hospital Auxiliary Looking Forward Program. 

“Our goal is to cultivate a welcoming and warm environment for patients and provide information that will benefit them throughout their cancer journey and beyond,” said Andrea Torre, cosmetic oncology beauty specialist and master wig fitter at the Cingari Family Boutique. 

Torre said that many patients face skin changes, along with hair loss and sometimes changes in their nails. 

“Self-care is an important part of our daily lives and helps to promote wellness,” Torre said. “The Beyond Beauty Program addresses these topics with step-by-step lessons and best practices, while also building confidence and self-esteem that patients may lose as a result of the physical changes that come with their treatment.” 

Open to all genders and patients over 18, the program launched in April with a session held at Smilow Cancer Hospital Waterford. Additional sessions, including those tailored to teens and men, are in the works for other Smilow Cancer Hospital locations in Connecticut. 

A journey of support

Marisa Telesca of Port Chester, NY, didn’t want to wait for a workshop close to her home. Telesca, who has been in treatment since 2015 for ovarian cancer, traveled nearly two hours to attend the first session in Waterford. “Being in my 60s is special – you aren’t as uptight about how people look at you,” she said. “But I still want to look good for my age. I felt so good about learning how to apply makeup. My granddaughters looked at me like I’m a movie star!” 

Baglini-Gurr’s motivation to attend included a desire for some “me” time. “I wanted to learn how to take care of the new me – the me with drier skin and no hair. I loved feeling like I was pampered for the day. It was great to laugh together while getting beautified! This helped me get out of my funk.”

For Clang, the emotional connections made with others on the same journey made the workshop worth it. 

“It’s hard to look at myself and not see any hair. Not having hair reminds me of what I’m going through,” she said. “My expectations for the session were to just have a nice afternoon and get a few beauty tips. I have a great support system. But being in a room with others like you who are talking and sharing things we’ve learned while going through cancer treatment – it’s good to realize that I’m not the only one this is happening to.” 

The next Beyond Beauty session is scheduled for 2 - 4 pm Wednesday, Dec. 6 in Waterford. Register online or email [email protected] or call the Cingari Family Boutique at 203-200-2273 for information on more upcoming sessions and locations.