In “Mondays at Racine,” Breast Cancer
Patients Bond at a Beauty Salon
By Beth Rubin
In “Mondays at Racine,” an award-winning short documentary by Cynthia Wade, sisters Rachel and Cynthia throw open the doors of their Long Island beauty salon one Monday a month to breast cancer patients in need of infusions of R and R. While coping with the disease’s devastating physical and emotional effects, the women handle the day-to-day life-altering challenges with intelligence, poise, and good humor. But chemo-related hair loss pushes them to the brink.
In the welcoming arms of the empathetic salon owners, whose mother, we learn, became reclusive as her self-image as a woman diminished after her own breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, members of this tight sorority gather to shed their locks and inhibitions and to reclaim their femininity. Through spa treatments, makeup tips, abundant hugs, and quasi-group therapy, they regain their identities as empowered women who just happen to have cancer. Unburdening themselves, they share the inevitable emotional fallout from breast cancer—how it affects their self-image, sexuality, relationships with their spouses and children, and hopes for the future—and form an impervious bond.
The opening scene in the salon introduces us to a handful of women of different ages in various stages of treatment and hair loss. They try on hats, banter, and laugh unselfconsciously as if they’re meeting for tea or a girlfriends’ getaway. The mood changes when the women begin to tell their stories.
Cambria is married with a loving husband and son, and is in the process of adopting a second child. Her diagnosis, Stage 3 metastatic breast cancer, may well prevent her from completing the adoption. We follow her into the shower and watch as her hair —“women’s crowning glory”— collects in the drain.
We accompany Cambria and Linda as they make difficult medical and personal decisions, anguish and pleasure intermittently writ large on their faces. We applaud their strengths, feel their pain, and cheer their victories. We know these women. They are us. If we have not yet walked in their shoes, they are our sisters, mothers, daughters, or best friends.
This is not a film to be avoided because it arouses uncomfortable feelings. It should be seen by all women—and by the men who love them.