NORTH HAVEN — For Joyce-Lyn Altieri, the Cutting for a Cure event she started 20 years ago is much more than a fundraising endeavor. It’s also a chance to raise awareness and to build a community of support for those battling cancer, cancer survivors and caretakers.
This year she’s taking the support one step further by offering complimentary hair treatments for breast cancer survivors at her Washington Street salon, Flair for Hair. The treatment includes a lather lounge experience, conditioning, head massage, hand massage, haircut or styling.
“We know what a battle (cancer) is to go through; the chemotherapy and being sick and all that, and if they can have a reprieve for an hour and half here, an hour... that would be a wonderful thing and it would make them feel good and it makes us feel good to do something nice for them,” said Altieri, owner of Flair for Hair.
Altieri, a Wallingford resident, has first-hand experience with cancer. Her sister Joni Cunningham died 19 years ago due to breast cancer, just four months after her diagnosis.
“I started (Cutting for a Cure) because I wanted to keep my sister's memory alive and my sister had a type of breast cancer called inflammatory carcinoma, and it comes out as a rash, not a lump. Most people don't know about that type of breast cancer,” Altieri said.
Because of this, Altieri focuses on awareness not only in October, National Breast Cancer Awareness month, but year-round.
“We're very lucky because we have a profession that we get to touch people's lives and it's very personal. As you touch people's hair you get to know them, and it becomes a comfort level like that,” Altieri said.
In the beginning, the fundraiser was a step toward survival for Altieri. She had spent so much time by her sister’s bedside while she was sick, that when she died, she felt like she needed to keep busy in meaningful ways. Around the same time, Altieri’s father was diagnosed with lung cancer and died just days before the first Cutting for a Cure. Still, she persisted, and ended up raising $500 that first year.
“I'm like, I need to do something. I need to show my kids that bad things happen, but how are we going to rise from it and what are we going to do to make a difference. It was more for my survival when I started...because I didn't know what to do with myself,” Altieri said.
Twenty years later, Altieri estimates the event has raised about $70,000 for cancer-related foundations and local families dealing with the disease.
This year’s proceeds will go to 19-year-old Amelia DePino, a North Haven native. Altieri said DePino's mother, Annetta, has been a client for 28 years and she’s watched Amelia and her sister grow up.
“We've known the family forever... so it feels right to help this family out,” Altieri said.
Amelia DePino was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia during her senior year at North Haven High School. After being in remission for about a year, the cancer relapsed this past July and her family is seeking a bone marrow transplant in October.
“I was really honored and surprised when I found out when (Altieri) was doing it for me,” Amelia DePino said. “It just means a lot because it shows that my community cares for me, my family, during these hard times.”
Since the DePino’s have been connected to Altieri for so long, Amelia DePino said she's been going to Cutting for a Cure all her life and remembers helping out with little things as a kid. She says it’s surreal to be on the receiving end now.
Amelia DePino leaves for Boston to receive her transplant a few days before the event, but said family and friends will be there in her honor. After her treatment, she hopes to return to Sacred Heart University, where she finished her freshmen year in nursing earlier in the year.
“I hope my story with my diagnosis, people see and understand what cancer’s actually like and what people actually go through,” Amelia DePino said. “I think just to live everyday without worrying and live to the fullest and don’t let little things bother you, because you never know what’s going to happen.”
Anyone is welcome at this year’s Cutting for a Cure on Sunday, Oct. 28 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Flair for Hair, 310 Washington Ave. Stylists will be on hand for haircuts and styling, and Altieri expects karaoke outside, some business vendors, and raffle prizes. The breast cancer survivor treatments are offered by appointment on Wednesdays and Fridays.