Cancer survivor spa day inspires enduring friendship
Barbara Paget (right), founder of Cancer Survivor Beauty and Support Day, watches as Highland Park resident and cancer patient Sarah Menoni, gets a kiss from her mother, Debbie. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 1, 2012 10:46AM
Before Highland Park resident Barbara Paget’s annual Cancer Survivor Beauty and Support Day expanded to thousands of salons pampering countless survivors in nearly all 50 states, she made a special connection with a young Highland Park cancer survivor.
It was 2005, and Paget was talking with a small group of cancer survivors in a Highland Park spa when in walked Sarah Menoni.
At least half the age of the other cancer survivors, Paget recalled thinking Menoni misinterpreted the occasion. But the 22-year-old had just spent the last year undergoing chemotherapy for leukemia.
Menoni was there for the same reason as the entire bunch: an infusion of free pampering donated to all cancer survivors through Paget’s Cancer Survivor Beauty and Support Day.
“Sarah told us she spent her 21st birthday in a hospital,” Paget recalled. “My heart just went out to this beautiful 22-year-old girl. I don’t have a great memory, but I remember every word Sarah said that night.”
Menoni’s gratitude, strength and spirit left an immediate impression on Paget. The pair stayed in touch the next couple of years while Menoni continued to attend ensuing Cancer Survivor Beauty and Support Day events in Highland Park.
Paget remembers a special hug in 2010, when Menoni was wearing a sparkling engagement ring on her finger.
“She looked adorable,” Paget said.
But soon after Menoni’s story took a sad turn.
After six and a half years, Menoni’s cancer returned in November 2010. She underwent a bone marrow transplant and additional rounds of chemo, but significant complications and hurdles remain.
“I visited her in the hospital last year and brought her a pillow in the shape of a butterfly with a heart in the center,” Paget said. “Butterflies are good luck, and I wanted to wish her good luck from the bottom of my heart. And that pillow has been with Sarah every day since the summer of 2011.”
While Paget’s spa day has reached countless individuals, she has never visited anyone else in the hospital.
“There is just something very special about her,” Paget explained.
On Wednesday, May 23, Menoni celebrated her 29th birthday in her Highland Park home. The same house she lived in while attending Wayne Thomas Elementary, Northwood Junior and Highland Park High schools.
It’s unlikely, however, that Menoni will be able to attend the upcoming 10th annual Cancer Survivor Beauty and Support Day on June 5. If she can make it, with the help of a medical van, Sarah is looking forward to a facial treatment.
This year’s version will feature free salon services for cancer survivors at about 700 spas nationwide, including more than 100 in Illinois alone. Eight Highland Park spas are participating as well as 35 more North Shore and northwest suburban salons.
“My goal is not to just see her come to the Cancer Survivor Beauty and Support Day, but to see her walk down the aisle,” Paget said.
Sarah’s mother, Debbie Menoni, has witnessed the special connection grow between her daughter and Paget. She is proud to think Sarah’s battle has inspired Paget to take the spa day event to new levels.
“Sarah has had wonderful experiences with the spa day,” Debbie Menoni said. “Something just touched Barbara when Sarah walked in that first time, and I know Barbara’s devastated the cancer came back.
“It makes Sarah feel so good that someone wants to do something so special for cancer survivors.”