Surviving with Style

Although strangers before their Park Place photo shoot, (from left) Monica Gibbons, Kimberly Bollo, and Sherri Mazzola became fast friends after comparing experiences.

Save the Date
A Night of Hope
Beauty and shopping event
Wednesday, October 20, 8 PM
Morris Museum, Morristown 973-216-1701


Despite breast cancer’s assault on their appearance and femininity, three local survivors are celebrating their triumph over the disease, savoring life with those they love, and pulling it off with style and grace.

To those who are lucky enough never to have experienced a devastating health diagnosis, it might seem frivolous to even think about personal style when battling breast cancer. But joyful survivors agree that a healthy self-image and an optimistic attitude go a long way in encouraging a frightened and fatigued patient to feel her best.

“As a surgical oncologist who cares for many women with breast cancer, it is essential to consider the medical, social, and physical ramifications of recommended treatments. It is important that women with breast cancer maintain a positive self-image while undergoing sometimes difficult therapies,” says Dr. Aaron H. Chevinsky, chief of surgical oncology at Morristown Memorial Hospital’s Carol G. Simon Cancer Center.

“Toward that end, reconstructive surgery, often incorporated at the time of initial surgery, and cosmetic enhancements such as wigs and specialized cosmetics, are essential to allow women to feel and function as close to normal as they can,” he adds.

Meeting Adversity with strength—Kimberly’s Story

In 2005, Kimberly Bollo of Montville was living the good life as a wife, mother (a 3-year-old son and a little brother on the way), and a freelance makeup artist working on television and magazine shoots, and with brides. But, in Bollo’s third trimester, she discovered a lump in her breast—and her world changed overnight.

At age 35, she was diagnosed with aggressive HER2-positive cancer and—two months after giving birth—she endured a double mastectomy. That was the first of three surgeries in two and a half years.

“Chemotherapy was especially tough because it made me lethargic,” Bollo says. “The nurses told me to be prepared to gain twenty pounds. But I wouldn’t let that happen—so I did daily core-strengthening exercises and ate right. That might sound vain, but I had to keep a ‘vanity mind-set’ to maintain a positive self-image.

“Since chemo can ravage skin and hair, I drank a lot of water to stay hydrated, and I used tons of moisturizer,” she says. “Then, when my hair started falling out, I asked my husband, Steven [owner of Bollo Salon in Towaco] to shave my head. After that, I was fortunate that a former business colleague [Jane Genesi of JA Alternatives in Paramus] who designs hair replacements for celebrities created a custom wig for me out of real hair. My husband cut and colored it, and that wig got more compliments than my own hair ever did.

“Although treatment was difficult, I emerged with new and improved breasts, a great excuse to splurge on fun clothes. Even during the toughest days, I used to give myself a lift with pretty accessories,” Bollo says.

After consulting a gamut of doctors and trying every kind of holistic therapy, Bollo realized the importance of a healthy perspective. “If I allow it, my brain will attack me with negative thinking. So I have to be my own advocate and do whatever it takes to feel good about myself. Adversity brings strength, and today I’m a better wife, mother, and person for surviving cancer.”

Mazzola, Bollo, and Gibbons agree that a positive outlook goes a long way in fighting their illness.

Celebrating her survival—Sherri’s Story
Sherri Mazzola, 54, of Chester is a wife, a mother, an executive, and a fighter.
Although her mother had breast cancer six years ago and Mazzola never missed an annual mammogram, she never actually expected to get bad news. Then, in 2007, she had the shock of her life.

“I didn’t believe the diagnosis until a biopsy confirmed it,” says Mazzola, a vice president and account executive for Wells Fargo Bank in Madison. “Then I broke down. At first, I was scared and angry, but when you have no other options, you get strong fast. I thought, I’ll do whatever it takes to beat this, and I was extreme. For me, a radical bi-lateral mastectomy and reconstructive surgery was the right decision.”

Mazzola and her family just celebrated her third year cancer-free. “I don’t need to remind my college-age daughters of my anniversary date because they will never forget it. My younger daughter sent me a lengthy, heartfelt letter to express what she’s not always able to say in person. And my older girl gave me a pink Vera Bradley wristlet bag to celebrate my good health. My husband is grateful and supportive—he remembers all too well what happened to our household when I was unable to get out of bed.”

As soon as Mazzola’s hair began to grow back, she went to the Frank Anthony Salon in Chester for a little pampering. “The staff is very sensitive because they understand how to help survivors work with their hair and makeup, and to feel beautiful again,” she says.

“About a month after chemo, I had less than an inch of hair, but I was so excited to try new looks. It was fun having short hair, and I could spike it or color it or wear a cute wig. Somedays I felt like being a redhead, and other days I was brunette or blonde.”

Now Mazzola looks and feels great, and finds herself smiling all the time. “Cancer is not the enemy,” Mazzola says. “Fear is the enemy. For me, this is a very happy story because a mammogram saved my life.”

Taking cancer in stride—Monica’s Story
“You never realize how important your appearance is until you have no hair and no breasts,” says thirty-something Monica Gibbons of Morristown.

Gibbons was diagnosed in July 2009 after discovering a huge mass in her left breast. “It came on so fast, I knew it would be bad news,” she says. Her doctor immediately scheduled a mammogram. “The radiologist confirmed that the mass comprised 75 percent of my breast, and it was obviously malignant, so he picked up the phone right in front of me and called the breast surgeon. I was too shocked to cry.”

In hindsight, Gibbons believes that the mass was estrogen-based, and probably formed as a result of her second pregnancy. Within a month after diagnosis, she had chemotherapy to shrink the mass, then a double mastectomy, then radiation.

“My life turned in a day, but I tried to take it all in stride,” she says. “Cancer gave me a level of clarity and focus I never had before, and that was a gift.”

Just before Gibbons started chemo, her girlfriends threw a “bye-bye boobies” party at the Sushi Lounge in Morristown. Next, she went to a chic salon to have her head shaved, and then bought a natural wig from stylist Joseph Paris of Morristown. “From then on, I never left the house in sneakers or sweatpants because the way you portray yourself nourishes your soul,” Gibbons says.

Today Gibbons’s daughters are ages 2 and 7. A single mother, she keeps busy as the owner of Candy Couture, an online children’s hair accessories boutique, and she also is active in her family’s restaurant, Toro Loco in South Orange. As Gibbons counts her blessings, she remembers the women she met during her chemo treatments who weren’t as fortunate.

“It’s important for me to give back in order to keep this pervasive disease in the public eye. It effects every woman who is a mother, daugher, or sister,“ says Gibbons. “Hope gives me the strength to get up and fight every day so that I can be an example to my daughters.”

In memory of a friend who recently lost her battle with cancer, Gibbons is organizing “A Night of Hope” on October 20 at 8 pm at the Morris Museum in Morristown. This night of beauty and shopping will feature hors d’oeuvres, makeovers, and gift baskets from various local vendors. Tickets are $50, and proceeds will go to the Villa Walsh School Scholarship Fund. For more information, call 973-216-170.

Chic Resources to the Rescue

When chemotherapy and radiation ravage skin, hair, and femininity, these local businesses offer specialized services that help women look their best and maintain their dignity.

Oxygen therapy facials to restore skin radiance—Bellezza Si Esthetics,
Morristown (973-540-0764; bellezzasi.com).

Aromatherapy massages to detoxify and renew–Belmora Spa, Basking Ridge
(908-696-0022; belmoraspa.com).

Hair extensions and hairstyles—Kathryn Joseph Salon, Morristown (973-401-1213; kathrynjosephsalon.com).

Makeup lessons and hairstyles—Frank Anthony Salon, Chester (908-879-6211; frankanthony.com).

Certified permanent makeup (eyebrows/eyeliner)–Susan Barbaglia, New Providence (908-508-1800; skindeepdayspa.com).

Certified mastectomy fitters–The Dain Shoppe, Morristown (973-539-7586; dainshoppe.com); and Sanofi-aventis Wellness Boutique, Somerville (908-927-8779).

Mammography/ultrasound in a spa environment–In Her Image, West Caldwell (973-244-1500; inherimage.com).

Tips for Finding the Perfect Wig
Before you begin treatment, and on a day when you have the energy, visit a local wig salon and have fun trying on new looks. It’s better to do this in person, rather than online, because the styles you think will look best might not complement your features.

Take a close friend along on your excursion, not only for moral support, but for a valued second opinion. Make it an uplifting occasion by combining it with a nice lunch.

Trust an experienced wig consultant, and try on new styles in front of a three-way mirror. Prices vary widely, but insurance usually covers a portion of the expense.

Chic resources include Just For You Center, East Hanover (973-887-5930; justforyoucenter.com); and Joseph Paris, Morristown and Manhattan (yourhairx.com). Remember, your wig is an important investment in your appearance and your emotional health, so choose carefully.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

For more than 25 years, October has been recognized as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The NBCAM.org site, a year-round resource for breast cancer patients, survivors, caregivers, and the general public, is dedicated to educating and empowering women to take charge of their own breast health by practicing monthly self-breast exams, scheduling regular doctor visits and annual mammograms, adhering to prescribed treatment, and knowing the facts about recurrence.

One in eight American women will develop breast cancer at some point in her lifetime. The good news it that, since 1990, breast cancer-related deaths have declined because awareness has encouraged more women to have early screenings—which are the key to survival. In the U.S. today, about 2.5 million women are proud to call themselves breast cancer survivors.


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