For as long as she could remember, Christina Amato-Smith has always wanted to open her own hair salon. The Floral Park native worked at a salon down the road from her home, but it wasn’t until 1994 when Amato-Smith made good on her promise to herself.
“I came to Bethpage to open my business because my clients were here,” said Amato-Smith who now lives in Lindenhurst and has owned Top Cuts for 20 years.
While her business has been met with much success, in 2008, Amato-Smith’s personal life was met with a challenge when she was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer. It was this event that prompted Top Cuts to organize a Cut-a-Thon to raise funds and awareness for breast cancer. This year’s event occurs on Saturday, November 1.
“My husband Gerry and I have a 10 year old son, Anthony. He was five when I was diagnosed with breast cancer,” said Amato-Smith of her miracle baby. “My son was my main priority; after seven years of struggling to have a child, I was not going to let something like this kill me.”
In the midst of her many tests, Amato-Smith’s father-in-law had passed away. It was a chance encounter at the funeral where everything changed.
“My cousin came to the funeral, so I told him what I was going through. He made me promise to see another doctor on his recommendation,” said Amato-Smith, even though she had already chosen one. “I saw this doctor on a Tuesday morning, right before my other doctor, and my worst fear was hearing two different opinions.”
At the funeral, Amato-Smith’s father-in-law wanted a poem read entitled, “The Woman and Her Fork,” which is about a woman who is diagnosed with a terminal illness. Amato-Smith explained that the woman in the poem asks her priest to bury her with a fork in her hand because she loved to go out to eat. When her dinner was done, the waiter would always tell her to hold onto her fork because the best was yet to come, meaning dessert.
“I went to the doctor that my cousin recommend and said to my husband, ‘how do we know if we’re in the right spot?’ We walked into the doctor’s office and saw a meal plan that said “beat breast cancer with a fork,” and that’s when I knew we were in the right place,” said Amato-Smith. “I believe that there are signs and in everything I do now, I end it with that motto, ‘the best is yet to come.’”
Amato-Smith went through six months of chemotherapy and a double mastectomy in which doctors removed 23 lymph nodes; three were positive. She then completed 35 radiation treatments before getting clearance for a 12-hour reconstructive surgery a year and a half later. She has been cancer free since April 17, 2009.
“I believe that I was given this challenge to know what women go through so that I could make a difference,” said Amato-Smith. “My whole life now, besides work, is my foundation. We do what we do to help others on Long Island.”
The money that Amato-Smith and her team at Top Cuts raise stays right here on Long Island. She donates to the Babylon Breast Cancer Coalition, the West Islip Coalition, Long Beach, Great Neck and to the Sass Foundation, a 501(c)3, that focuses on research, education and patient care in the fight against cancer and blood related diseases.
“If you’re going through chemo and you can’t get off the couch but you need dinner for your family, these services will deliver meals to your home, just so you can focus on getting better,” said Amato-Smith, adding that the services are paid for and also include prosthetics, home cleaning services and transportation to doctor appointments.
Amato-Smith’s staff started the Cut-a-Thon to help her. This will be the sixth Cut-a-Thon for Top Cuts, which also participates in other local events and charities year round. Prize baskets are on display for an entire month leading up to the event, which features a DJ and food donated from Jackie Reilly’s next door. The salon offers all hair services at regular price and 100 percent of the proceeds go towards cancer.
“Our entire staff shows up for work and the girls sacrifice their salary that day,” said Amato-Smith, who welcomes volunteers as well. “Sometimes the cheerleaders from Plainedge and Island Trees come and do a cheer in the parking lot,” she continued, stating that the local Boy Scouts and members of the community come out to help as well.
Although the event is not for hair donation, customers who wish to donate their hair can fill out a form and send it to Locks of Love or Pantene, as the salon works with both companies. Customers can also stop by and purchase T-shirts, bracelets, pink hair extensions, or simply donate to the cause.
“We have such a variety of prizes, from hair and baking baskets to a Dyson vacuum and a Joe Namath autographed football,” said Amato-Smith of the raffle prizes. “There are also two airline tickets on Southwest, an overnight stay in Oheka Castle and Theresa Caputo tickets.”
There are three different levels of prizes, with tickets ranging from one dollar to ten dollars. Most of the gifts are donated by the salon’s clients across the towns of Wantagh, Seaford, Babylon, Syosset and Floral Park.
“Financially, I was covered and I had help from the Babylon Coalition,” said Amato-Smith who worked through her chemo to keep things as normal as possible. “The staff is so involved and they really have fun with it. I couldn’t ask for a better staff.”
In the past five years, Top Cuts has collectively raised over $150,000 from their Cut-a-Thons. Amato-Smith believes that being involved in the community is everything, and gives back any way she can.