by Maria LaPiana
Feb 22, 2013
12:45 PMWell, Now
Cancer Care: Back to Beauty
It’s a warm summer evening and a handful of women—ranging in age from 35 to 60-plus—are beginning to gather around a conference table in a Trumbull meeting room; one by one they find a place, say hellos and drop handbags and briefcases on the floor. The conversations are polite, some more familiar than others. Some of the women reach for tea, water, crackers or crudités set out on a small table against the wall. Everyone admires Deborah Berry’s new ’do.
At the head of the table, Jennifer Ciamei gets the women’s attention, asks how they’re all doing, and jumps into tonight’s agenda: How well are her cancer-care products working? Is the moisturizer holding up in the warm weather? What do they think of the packaging she’s developing?
At once it’s clear this is a no-nonsense research meeting, conducted by Ciamei to test and assess the efficacy of products and treatments she’s developed to help women cope with the side effects of cancer treatments.
But the gathering is more personal than that; it’s a palpable support system for the women in the room—and another step in the journey that began for Ciamei at age 6, when her mother, Marcia, then 39, was diagnosed with leukemia. As a young girl, she remembers the helplessness she felt during her mother’s long and aggressive treatment, an ordeal that lasted six years, until she went into remission (she later passed away at 54 from complications).
“Everything about her was beaten down, her bones, her blood cells, her immune system,” says Ciamei, now 39. “But the hardest part for me was seeing how her beauty and wellness were taken away from her. I saw her so depressed over the years, and I remember wondering if there wasn’t a way to help women like her.”
The memory stayed.
Pursuing an interest in cosmetology, Ciamei became a hair salon assistant at 15, was certified as an esthetician after high school, and gained experience in several Fairfield County salons. Over time, she turned away from chemicals and gravitated toward natural, organic ingredients. She was trained and certified in natural cosmetic chemistry. The single mother of two young sons went out on her own 13 years ago and now offers skin, hair and nail treatments and other spa services using only natural ingredients derived from plants, essential oils and extracts, out of her small spa, the Ciamei Wellness Center in Trumbull.
Meanwhile, her interest in cancer care only grew. She organized the research and support group, named “Project Marcia” in her mother’s honor. For nearly two years, she has provided nine women with free services and products, using their feedback to perfect formulations designed to help minimize the physically damaging effects of cancer treatments, including chemotherapy and radiation. She addresses any concerns or questions the women’s doctors may have, and has found most of them are open-minded regarding treatments that make patients look and feel better.
“I really just wanted to make a difference in the lives of women with cancer so they could retain—or regain—their beauty and sense of self-worth,” she says. “I could see how much they needed to be reminded they could be beautiful again.”
Deborah Berry, who learned to embrace the short-and-spiky hairstyle she adopted when she finished chemotherapy, is one of her success stories. An ovarian cancer survivor, Berry admits she was “very bitter and upset” when she was diagnosed. “I ate well, exercised my whole life,” she says. “I was very angry.
“Cancer changes the way people look at you, and the way you look at yourself,” she says. “My hair was down to the middle of my back; it was my crowning glory. It didn’t fall out right away, so I thought I might be one of the lucky ones. But then it came out in clumps and that was the worst.”
Berry, like many of the women in the group, met Ciamei through a massage therapist she’d seen while undergoing treatment. “When I met Jennifer I thought she was wonderful and sincere, and I thought if I could help her, and empower other women, it would be worth it,” she says.
Overall, the results have been very encouraging; all the women report improvements in skin and nails damaged by chemotherapy or radiation, and the regrowth of hair while using Ciamei’s products. Says Berry: “The treatments helped a lot . . . first of all she gives you hope. Jennifer is very knowledgeable, very informative. And thanks to her, my hair grew in fuller and better than prior to chemo.”
Says Ciamei: “These women deserve to feel good when they get up in the morning, to look forward to something that will be better today than it was yesterday. That’s always been my goal.”
Dian Vance is a six-year breast cancer survivor who says she signed on with Ciamei because she’d been “so busy being ‘normal’ that I wasn’t being me. I was just making sure that I showed up for work, life and family.
“When I started working with Jennifer it got to be about me,” she says. “It was a way to have a professional work with me with good products that are safe and healthy. Her facial scrub is really excellent; it encouraged new growth to make my skin look fresh. It was the icing on the cake.”
To a woman, “Project Marcia” volunteers say the benefits go beyond oils and butters, massages and masques. According to Vance, “It’s always good to be among people who have been through what you have; this is what a group like this gives you.”
Ciamei is in the process of marketing her product line, called “Phase 9,” and will make it available through local cancer clinics soon. This spring, she’ll be selecting four or five new volunteers (age 20 to 30) to help younger women cope with cancer.
Ciamei Wellness Center, 115 Technology Drive, Suite B300, Trumbull. To order products or schedule treatments, call 203-459-2441 or visit ciameiwellness.skincaretherapy.info.