Minnesota State College Southeast Cosmetology Academy students Morgan Mueller (left) and Lexi Bishop pampered Ginnee Siegel during her recent spa day.
by LAURA HAYES
On Thursday, Ginnee Siegel received a very unique surprise.
After she was diagnosed with breast cancer last spring, Siegel would come to the area to receive her chemotherapy treatments. Her niece, Gina Glasspoole, told her that she had received a complementary facial at Minnesota State College (MSC) Southeast Cosmetology Academy. But when they arrived, Siegel was greeted with a round of “Hello, gorgeous!” from students and staff. She had been nominated to receive a "Hello Gorgeous" experience –– a spa day and makeover for women diagnosed with cancer.
Siegel said that she had no idea that this was happening. “When I walked in the door, I saw the people and the flowers and I looked around, thinking that there was someone behind me that it was for,” she said.
MSC Southeast Instructor Jodi Heim said that there’s a need for these types of services for cancer patients. “There are so many people touched by cancer in some way, shape, or form. When these women are not feeling well and are low on energy, it can’t but help affect your psyche and how you look and how you feel. We have the power to make them feel better about themselves, even if it’s just for the day,” she said.
Siegel was born and raised in Winona and attended Winona State University, where she graduated with a degree in elementary education. “When I was four years old, I went and helped a neighbor who was a teacher,” she said. The teacher would let her help out and go through papers. “I really liked it.”
She later settled in Chicago where she mostly taught students with behavioral issues who came from families where they had been abused or neglected. She had been helping out another teacher, who was in charge of the class. “I said, ‘I’ll do anything you want. Just tell me what you want me to do,’” she recalled.
After two weeks, the supervising teacher didn’t show up for class. Siegel went downstairs to tell the principal, “‘You’re a teacher; just take over,’” she remembered being told. She ended up working with these students for the next 20 years and went back to school to take classes in behavior modification. Although she’s now retired, Siegel said that she still keeps in contact with some of her students.
In February, Siegel knew something was wrong. She went to urgent care, complaining of breast pain. After being told that nothing was wrong, the doctors sent her home. She went back several more times and did more tests –– mammograms and ultrasounds –– before doctors found the breast cancer on an MRI. “I could have just let it go, but something was telling me that something was wrong, it didn’t feel right,” she said.
In May, she had a partial mastectomy and began chemotherapy treatment. “This is truly meaningful to me, the support makes you want to go on and do your best,” she said.
Literally rolling out a red carpet for Siegel, that afternoon she received a full day of pampering including a facial, a manicure and pedicure, make-up, styling of her wig, and a new outfit from Maurices. Typically, the participant and her new look will be revealed at an event with loved ones. “It gives us an opportunity to teach them how to apply eyebrows if they don’t have any, how to make it look like they have lashes when they don’t, or how to work with a wig,” Heim said. “It’s also an opportunity for us to educate them on questions that they might be afraid to ask otherwise.”
Heim met Hello Gorgeous founders Kim and Michael Becker at a conference in Chicago. “We made eye contact from across the room and he said, ‘Hello gorgeous.’ And I went walking over,” she recalled.
“When I learned what they were doing –– helping women with cancer –– that’s always been my purpose in the industry as well,” she said. In addition to having family members diagnosed with breast cancer, one of Heim’s friends that she went to MSC Southeast Cosmetology Academy with and later worked with passed away from breast cancer around 15 years ago.
Heim’s former salon in St. Charles became the first Hello Gorgeous affiliate in the state of Minnesota. When the Beckers first founded the organization, they had two mobile day spas –– former mobile homes –– named “Hope” and “Faith.” The Beckers would surprise the women at work or at a mall to receive a complementary spa on their mobile day spa, but according to Heim, they were limited in the number of women that they could serve. As a result, the Beckers started the salon affiliate program where salons across the country could become certified to give the Hello Gorgeous experience to local women.
A couple months ago, Heim learned of Siegel’s condition. “She’s been a long-time client of ours,” she said. Heim explained that although Siegel lives in Chicago, she spends her summers in Winona to be with family. One day, Siegel asked Heim for some skin care advice and while talking, Heim learned that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Heim soon nominated Siegel to receive the Hello Gorgeous experience.
Heim reached out to Glasspoole to have her help pull it off –– tell her Siegel’s favorite colors, her clothing size, and her favorite foods.
The spa day couldn’t have come at a better time for Siegel because someone recently broke into her condo in Chicago. “But everyone is being so nice and kind that it’s not a big deal. It’s one thing that can be corrected. If you can do something about it, that can make a big difference,” Siegel said.
After hearing that she was diagnosed with cancer, Heim wanted to nominate Siegel for the experience. “So I called Kim and Mike Becker and I said, ‘What do you think about a school becoming a salon affiliate?’” Heim said. “We’re the first school in the nation to be a salon affiliate for Hello Gorgeous.”
Now that MSC Southeast Cosmetology Academy is an affiliate, Heim hopes that the program continues to spread as her students graduate and move on to salons of their own. Additionally, MSC Southeast Cosmetology Academy will be equipped to serve women once a month for Hello Gorgeous.
To nominate a woman, visit www.hellogorgeous.org/how-to-nominate/. To qualify, the woman must be a cancer patient or a cancer survivor either newly diagnosed to six-months post-treatment.