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Andrea Torre, cosmetic oncology
Andrea Torre, cosmetic oncology beauty specialist at Cingari Family Boutique, shows Sarah Webb of Monroe how to apply eyebrows as part of a beauty program for Smilow patients receiving treatment for cancer.


Smilow Program Is All About Beauty – Inside and Out

For Emily Colter of Fairfield, the fact that she would lose her hair was almost as emotionally devastating as finding out that she had cancer.

“The hair loss was a really traumatic moment. I loved my hair,” said Colter, who was diagnosed with stage 4 HER+ breast cancer in August 2022, just three months after her son was born. “Losing it made this all the more real. I couldn’t hide from it or shield it from others. I didn't want a wig. I didn’t want to deal with any of this. How was this possibly my life right now?”

Sarah Webb of Monroe, who received a diagnosis of cervical cancer in March of this year, initially had a similar response to the thought of losing her hair. “It was absolutely traumatic. It makes you feel less feminine, less attractive when you lose your hair. And I don’t want to look sick,” she said. “When I see myself bald, I’m reminded again.”

Both women attended the Beyond Beauty Program, a new workshop offered to patients who are receiving treatment at Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale New Haven Hospital. The free program is specifically designed to address the visual side effects, challenges and changes experienced during cancer treatment.

The two-hour sessions are facilitated by licensed cosmetologists and certified hair and wig specialists from Yale New Haven Health. The program is sponsored by Smilow’s Cingari Family Boutique with additional funding provided by the Yale New Haven Hospital Auxiliary Looking Forward Program.

Self-care promotes wellness

“Our goal is to cultivate a welcoming and warm environment for patients and provide information that will benefit them throughout their cancer journey and beyond,” said Andrea Torre, cosmetic oncology beauty specialist and master wig fitter at the Cingari Family Boutique.

Torre said that many patients face skin changes, along with hair loss and sometimes changes in their nails. “Self-care is an important part of our daily lives and helps to promote wellness,” she said. “The Beyond Beauty Program addresses these topics with step-by-step lessons and best practices, while also building confidence and self-esteem that patients may lose as a result of the physical changes that come with their treatment.”

The program launched in April with a session held at Smilow Cancer Hospital at Waterford. Additional sessions were offered in Trumbull and Waterbury, with the goal to schedule workshops in other Smilow Cancer Hospital locations throughout the state. While the program is open to all genders and patients over 18 years old, classes that are specifically tailored for teens and men are being planned.

Emotional connections

At first, Colter and Webb were hesitant to attend a workshop, which was held in June at Smilow Cancer Hospital at Trumbull, located at Park Avenue Medical Center. “I hadn’t even ventured out of my house with my wig yet at that point,” Webb said.

“I never wanted to do a support group or group therapy because, frankly, this is not a group I've ever wanted to be a part of,” Colter added. “I feel like I can’t escape it.”

Madelyn Kaehlerl; Andrea Torre and Kimberly Joyce; and Sonia Grizzle
From left: Madelyn Kaehler, manager, Cingari Family Boutique at Smilow Cancer Hospital; Andrea Torre and Kimberly Joyce, cosmetologists/wig fitters; and Sonia Grizzle, executive director of oncology administration, Smilow.

Staff from the Cingari Boutique encouraged each woman to participate. “I’m so glad I went. It gave me the support that I needed to feel confident,” Webb said. “And my husband thinks I look great!”

For Colter, the emotional connections made with others who are on the same journey made the workshop worth it.

“It felt like a safe, warm, welcoming space. There were women there from all points on the cancer journey,” she said. “There’s something very powerful in that moment on reclaiming a sense of self and beauty from a disease that takes so much from you. In the beauty workshop, I felt like I had been given tools to manage this journey I’m on.”

For information on upcoming sessions and locations, contact Andrea Torre at [email protected] or call the Cingari Family Boutique at 203-200-2273.
Learn more about oncology services.