Both Sydney Berry and Debra Penzone consider themselves born hairdressers. Long before they were licensed, they were practicing on friends, dolls, family members—anyone who would let them.
Though each picked different paths through the beauty industry, personal experiences with breast cancer have lead Berry and Penzone to dedicate themselves to raising funds and awareness about the disease and to helping women get through it.
Sydney Berry, owner of the Seattle-area distributorship, Salon Services & Supplies, Inc., loved hair since she was 10-years old, and took the usual route from stylist to salon owner. But in 1980, she moved from Nebraska to Seattle and instead of trying to rebuild a clientele, she applied for a sales consultant job at a distributorship then Sebastian of Seattle and now Salon Services & Supplies that was just getting off the ground. She has been there ever since, progressing from sales manager to general manager to president, then to owner
But her 1990 diagnosis with breast cancer changed her professional focus. “It initiated a lot of different thought processes for me. After being in hair for so many years, now I was involved in the loss of hair,” she says. “It’s hard to rebuild what you believe you look like, and I realized that’s not a part we’ve undertaken as an industry.”
She learned what breast cancer patients need and what stylists can do to help them, and when she recovered after a 1993 relapse, she put her knowledge into action.
Berry and her company raised money for wigs and for books for newly-diagnosed patients, as well as for breast cancer research foundations and events like the City of Hope’s “Spirit of Life” award and the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.
She also participated in salon forums, talking to owners and stylists about the transformation patients undergo during chemo and radiation and how to help them cope. “When you are going through breast cancer, or any cancer, there is a loss of self. You feel so bad physically, you don’t look like yourself,” she says.
“One thing that was so frustrating was I wanted to be able to look at myself and say ‘Yep, I’m still there,’ and I couldn’t. Mentally, you’re doing everything you can to connect with just getting through the day, and you’re looking for anything you can do to get a little feel of ‘I’m going to be ok.’ And that’s what salons can do.”
The response has been rewarding. “This industry is great,” says Berry. “Once they understand, they will do anything they can.”