The salon is buzzing. Professional stylists move quickly and efficiently with a purpose and a smile. They dote over three women in robes who are resting comfortably and loving every moment of attention.
Nails are polished. Hair has been clipped or extended or colored or moussed. Teeth are pearly white. But now the finishing touches must be applied: eyelashes and makeup first, then the dresses, complete with shawls and jewelry.
It will soon be time. The limousine will be arriving to take them on a date with fine food, wine and newly found friends. Cristine Ward, Brandi Huff and Debbie Helton don’t want it to end.
Maybe it doesn’t have to.
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The three women won their transformations as part of More Than A Makeover, a partnership between beachblvd magazine, Tanya Tancredi Salon, La Vita Bella boutique, A Better You Image Transformation, Dr. Walter Guillot, Beau Rivage and Swetman’s Luxury Limousine. They were nominated by family and friends who felt they deserved More Than A Makeover.
It doesn’t take long to get a sense of who Debbie Helton is. Most of her time is spent outside of herself and with others around her.
Her young daughter is physically and mentally handicapped and is recovering from a recent surgery. Her husband has just finished horrific treatments for stage 4 cancer. When she’s not tending to family needs, she’s visiting sick friends in the hospital and volunteering at her church.
She says simply, “I love to help people.” Her selflessness is well known.
“If you ever think you’ve had it bad, just put your shoes in Debbie’s for one day,” writes friend JoAn Niceley in her nomination. “I know I can’t do it. She never sleeps; she runs on God’s strength, I have no doubt."
It’s no wonder this experience is a first for her on many levels. Helton, 49, has never been in a limousine; she’s never been to a casino; and she’s never had her hair cut short and stylish.
“I’m getting used to it and my husband is, too,” she says, laughing. “Don’t get me wrong; I like doing this."
But she adds, “It’s refreshing to know you can actually take time for yourself and enjoy it and still help other people,” says the Aberdeen native and resident of Long Beach. “It’s been nice to meet the other two ladies."
This experience will not end with her. “I would like to see if maybe I could help in some way — in giving back,” she says. “When I help others, I do help myself."
It’s an experience of firsts for Cristine Ward. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t know about life. She’s certainly learned how to fight for it.
“Her mother passed away when she was only 6 years old, so she never had a motherly figure to teach her how to do her hair or makeup,” writes her daughter, Virginia Zitzelberger, who nominated her.
Ward has battled with kidney cancer, reflex sympathetic dystrophy in both arms and disc problems in her neck. Just recently, she underwent a double mastectomy and chemotherapy.
“I was shocked when I was nominated,” Ward says. “But I wasn’t reluctant; not at all. I was really excited."
But she’s quick to say that she probably wouldn’t have nominated herself.
“The point is, you don’t see yourself as deserving it. I mean, I see myself sort of deserving it, but I see others more."
“It’s hard to say which part of this has been more enjoyable,” she adds. “It’s hard to focus on one thing."
The makeover met her expectations “and more."
“There’s so much,” she says. “This is my motivation to take time out for me. If I don’t take time out for myself, I’m not good for anyone else."
The distance between Brandi Huff and her wig has begun to grow wider — literally and figuratively. It’s been tucked away so she can’t see it. She sits obediently in the chair at Tancredi and salon owner Chuck Kelly fuss over her shortened hair.
Gandour leans over within whispering distance. “Beautiful,” she says.
Huff smiles a toothy smile. She’s learning not to push back a compliment. But she slips up to a third party in the room.
“You really do have wonderful hair,” he says.
“Well, it’s been colored,” she says.
Huff has had health issues since she was an infant. At 2, she had two heart surgeries. At 18, she faced more surgeries for a disc problem that causes the spine to narrow. She now has vision problems that prevent her from driving, and she is also on an insulin pump for diabetes.
But out of all the issues, she’s most embarrassed about a nervous disorder that causes her to pull out her hair. Because of that, she wears a wig.
It’s Tancredi’s mission to get Huff, 30, to dump the wig and start feeling good about herself. It’s working.
“When I was growing up, I had the longest, thickest hair,” she says. “That’s what I was known for. I was the little girl with the blond hair."
From age 6 to 8, she pulled her hair. She didn’t start again until 19 and has been doing it ever since.
She’s begun to trust Tancredi. “My most favorite part of this is Tanya,” she says. “She’s done everything. She’s just amazing."
“This has been much more than physical,” she says. “It’s more emotional. Some days, I’d go home crying saying, ‘This is go great. There are people out there who understand."
“Sounds crazy, huh? Makeover? Emotional? But it is."
It’s time for the official group photograph. The limousine is ready. They all climb in for their grand night out.
And the wig is nowhere to be found.