An esthetician certified in oncology skin care built her business around supporting, soothing and inspiring cancer patients.
For spa proprietor Kerry Kourie, the fight against cancer is personal. Kourie was in the eighth grade when she learned that her mother had been diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma. “That made a huge impact on my life,” reflects the current-day owner of Skinchanted Spa in Peekskill, New York.
Thankfully, her mother survived, but when Kourie launched her career in the spa industry about a decade later, that scary experience informed her business model and her service philosophy. After earning an oncology esthetician certification, Kourie made a name for Skinchanted on the upstate New York spa scene by becoming somewhat of a “big C” specialist.
“I always knew I loved the beauty industry,” Kourie says, “but I never thought I’d have the opportunity to work with such wonderful people as my oncology patients. I may have a positive impact on their lives, but they absolutely make my day as well!”
And Kourie’s compassion for cancer patients goes beyond providing care. She donates part of Skinchanted’s proceeds to Support Connection, a local charity benefitting sufferers of breast and ovarian cancer through community outreach and advocacy. “It’s a fantastic organization that puts close to 90% of its revenues straight back into the community,” says Kourie. She also frequently donates gift certificates to the charity’s raffles and events, reasoning, “Who wouldn’t love to win a free facial?”
DAYSPA spoke with the can-do Kourie about the challenges surrounding her efforts, and how one cause became an all-encompassing inspiration for her business.
DAYSPA: You’re one of just a couple-hundred oncology skincare professionals in the country—what spurred you to become certified?
Kerry Kourie: I’d been an esthetician for four years before learning about this specialty in esthetics—the Hudson Valley Hospital had just opened its cancer center. When I opened Skinchanted last year, I saw there would be a local need for my Caring Cancer Facial [45 min./$75], for many women and men alike. I loved the idea that while enduring something as traumatic to body and life as chemotherapy and radiation, patients could look forward to an experience that would make them simultaneously look and feel better.
How did you get the word out about your services?
Through networking, events and local media.The Hudson Valley Gateway Chamber of Commerce has also been wonderful. At our grand opening party, the mayor showed support by attending our ribbon-cutting ceremony, which aired on local TV! I also teamed up with the folks at Hudson Valley’s cancer center to cross-refer patients. They stock Skinchanted literature, business cards and coupon fliers in the oncology center, and let clients know that they’ll receive 10% off their first service. I figure those clients are already going through so much, they deserve a break—a high-priced facial does not have to be another thing to worry about!
What are some common oncology-related skin concerns?
Severe dryness to the point of cracking; a tingly, pins-and-needles “sunburned” sensation called hand-foot syndrome, which is a common side effect of chemotherapy; and overall skin discomfort. [See our web-exclusive story, “The Aesthetics of Cancer” on dayspamagazine.com to learn more about the effects of cancer treatments on skin.] This can really affect patients’ daily lives, and they’ve already got so much more than their skin to be concerned about.
Do you offer any oncology-related body treatments?
Yes, I’m trained in reflexology and manual lymphatic drainage massage. These treatments are not recommended while a patient is receiving chemotherapy and radiation, but they’re wonderful for relieving stress and aches and pains beforehand and afterward.
What do you do if you detect danger signs on a patient’s skin?
I have been certified by an organization called Touch for Cancer (touchforcanceronline.com), where we received in-depth training about detecting cancerous lesions, how the skin changes during chemotherapy and radiation, and how we as estheticians can make the skin feel soothed and hydrated while it’s compromised. But we cannot diagnose or offer medical advice, so I work with a local dermatologist to whom I refer patients.
What has been your biggest frustration?
Many patients think that while going through treatment, they shouldn’t pamper themselves with facials or massages. So, I have to do a lot of convincing, using my extensive knowledge of lymph node removal, surgery sites, port and PICC line (catheter) insertion and medications to convince them that I truly can relieve their discomfort, and provide a lasting glow, too.
This must be emotionally intense work. What keeps you going?
I’m inspired by terrific regular clients on a daily basis. One woman in particular, a stage four breast cancer survivor, had gotten fed up with the swelling and burning she experienced as side effects of her treatment, decided she no longer wanted to wrap her fingers and toes with bandages every day, and went off of chemo. But then I sent her some gentle, chemical-free products in the mail, and she was so amazed by how much they helped that after three days, she went back to her oncologist and agreed to resume her treatment. It’s people like that woman who keep me so dedicated.
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