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.”
Personally, Berry says her experiences have made her jam-pack every day and appreciate every moment.
“It definitely makes you cognizant of life, and the gift of life,” she says. “So many times you speed through life, and this is a wake-up call. It makes you aware of the tenuousness of life.”
A love of hair combined with artistic talent and supportive parents lead Debra Penzone, senior vice president of Charles Penzone, in the Columbus, Ohio area, to beauty school after high school. She started at Charles Penzone after school as an assistant and has stayed for 20 years.
Although she stepped away from the chair 10 years ago to focus on the Penzone salons’ cause marketing programs, she has maintained her license, partly so she can participate in programs like “Look Good, Feel Better,” a partnership between the National Cosmetology Association and the American Cancer Society. LGFB trains stylists to show patients how to work with hair and hairpieces, make-up and skin care to look and feel more like “themselves” while undergoing cancer treatment.
“I haven’t been personally affected by breast cancer—I think it was seeing clients I was close to go through it,” says Penzone. “I thought ‘I need to help out with this.’ Giving of your time and talent is a great way to give back to the community—non-profits are starving for it.”
For the last decade, she has participated in LGFB along with about 20 specially trained stylists from the Charles Penzone salons. Each month, three different hospitals in their area each host a two-hour LGFB program for patients, and one of the volunteer stylists goes to meet with the women.
“It’s a wonderful experience[for the women]—the nurses and caregivers seem to have to make them go at first, but once they get there, it almost becomes a support group,” says Penzone.
The stylist and the women discuss physical side effects and what they can do about them, such as what happens when the eyelashes or eyebrows fall out, what products to use on sensitized skin and how they can get to where they recognize themselves in the mirror.
“When we do these programs, the staff always says how great they feel afterwards, that they got so much out of the class,” says Penzone.
“Being able to help someone at one of the worst times and make them feel better, feel beautiful,” she says.
“It’s something special that we have the talent to do that for another person. So many young professionals don’t understand the impact that we can have on our whole community by making people feel their very best.”
If you or your salon is interested in getting involved with “Look Good, Feel Better,” go to www.lookgoodfeelbetter.org.