West Hartford day school student sets her sights on helping kids with cancer

By Cindy Mindell

Samara Gordon-Wexler

Samara Gordon-Wexler

WEST HARTFORD – In 2012, West Hartford resident Rachel Marcus told her book group friends that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and the women rallied to provide support during her year-long treatment. After Marcus was declared cancer-free in late 2013, the group celebrated at a University of Hartford screening of the award-winning HBO documentary film, Mondays at Racine, about Racine Salon & Spa in Islip, N.Y., which offers complimentary beauty services to women diagnosed with cancer. When the lights went up, the women announced the launch of a similar program, a partnership of their non-profit organization, Cut Out Cancer, Inc., in partnership with Milano Salon and Day Spa in Bloomfield.

Since January of this year, Milano has offered free beauty treatments every second Monday for women diagnosed with cancer. In addition to hair and nail services, clients enjoy art therapy, breakfast and lunch, and other goods and services, all donated by local individuals and businesses.

Now the effort is expanding its reach. On Sunday, Oct. 19, Cut Out Cancer and Milano will host “Cut Out Cancer for Kids,” organized by Solomon Schechter Day School (SSDS) eighth-grader Samara (Sammy) Gordon-Wexler as her bat mitzvah project.

“Two years ago, my grandfather was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer and he passed away this year,” says the West Hartford resident. “So I knew I wanted to do something in his honor. I have always been interested in helping kids, and when he died I automatically knew that I wanted to do something to help out kids with cancer.”

Gordon-Wexler researched options with her mother, Elysa Gordon, but found that most hospital-based volunteer programs engaged participants from age 16 and up. Then, they discovered Cut Out Cancer’s website and emailed the coordinators with the idea. After meeting to discuss logistics, the group allotted Gordon-Wexler a day dedicated to helping kids with cancer. She began working with a child life specialist at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford to get the word out to families with children battling cancer.

“I believe that learning to give at an early age is like planting a seed: you most likely would want to continue to give in general and to your community in particular as you grow,” says Cut Out Cancer co-founder Ronit Shoham. “I always like to support people and kids, especially those who are willing to give of themselves. It takes a lot, teaches you a lot and opens a door to the future.”

Services will include hairstyling, pedicure and manicure, and massage by appointment from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., with activities and food offered throughout the day.

“Sammy is doing a great job coordinating many aspects of this project and she has a supportive family behind her,” says Shoham. “We are looking forward to having kids in the salon and pamper them for a day with services, food and treats.”

Gordon-Wexler has recruited friends from SSDS and her family to volunteer, in addition to Milano staff who are donating their time.

“I’ve helped out on mini-tzedakah projects like food drives, but not at this scale,” she says. “It was a good amount of work and it took time but it’s definitely worth it and I definitely want to do more events like this in the future.”

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