Christina Amato-Smith of Lindenhurst doesn’t back down when confronted with a challenge, and she’s been faced with a few.
It took seven years of fertility treatments before she conceived her son, Anthony, who was born in 2003.
“When we were trying to have a child, it would fail, and I would say to my husband, ‘Gerry, we’ll do it again,’” she says. “I’m not a quitter.”
Her next challenge came five years later in 2008, when Christina had just turned 40 and found a lump in her breast.
“I will never forget how I was given my diagnosis,” she recalls. “I got a call from the doctor with the news. I hung up, and I looked at my mother and said, ‘I have breast cancer.’
Christina says she got her car keys and went to pick up her son from school. She didn’t allow the devastating news to change her routine.
“I was not going to let it beat me,” she says. “I was going to win this one. My son is my miracle. There is no way I am going to lose this battle.”
One month later, the Smith family received more bad news when Gerry Smith, Sr., her father-in-law, passed away. As a last request, he asked to be buried with a fork in his right hand and that a poem be read at the service called “A Woman and Her Fork.”
Christina said that the poem’s message was about a woman who was told to always keep her fork when the table was being cleared because there was always something better coming along, saying, “Keep your fork, the best is yet to come.”
While at the funeral, Christina’s cousin recommended that she see Dr. Dwight DeRisi, a surgeon from Glen Cove. Even though Christina had an appointment with another doctor, she agreed to see DeRisi. The next day as she waited in his office, she picked up a pamphlet on display about healthy eating entitled, “Beat Breast Cancer With A Fork.”
When she met the doctor, she says she felt an immediate affinity with him and thought, “This is where I need to be. He is like an angel.”
Dr. DeRisi recommended that she begin chemotherapy immediately.
While in treatment, she received a book from her aunt as a gift. When Christina unwrapped it, on the cover was a picture of a cake with a fork. The book was called “The Best Is Yet to Come.”
“That was my turning point,” she says. “It was a sign letting me know this is where I was supposed to be.”
With the help of the Babylon Breast Cancer Coalition’s Lend a Helping Hand program, Christina tried to make her life as normal as possible. Her house was cleaned and they provided transportation if needed.
“That was so important to me,” she says. “I didn’t have the energy. I wanted to make sure my son’s life was the same as much as possible.”
Besides her family, other people depended on Christina. She is a successful salon owner who employs 22 people at Top Cuts in Bethpage as well as being a beauty educator for Joico, an international beauty and hair product manufacturer.
“My staff wanted to do a fundraiser for me,” she says. So in 2009 and 2010 they held a Cut-A-Thon and donated the proceeds to the Babylon Breast Cancer Coalition.
In 2011, Christina founded Beauty for a Cure and now funds four Long Island coalitions.
For the Cut-A-Thon, all regular salon services are donated by her staff on the day of the event. The shop begins its transformation at the beginning of October when the hair and beauty products on display are put away to make room for dozens of raffle baskets that line the walls. Prizes include Jet Blue tickets, trips to Disney World and sporting event box seats plus hundreds of other premium items. Food is donated by local restaurants and a DJ provides entertainment.
The Cut-A-Thon brings the entire community together. “We take over the parking lot,” she says, noting that last year more than 185 services were donated, and at least 300 people came to the event. “Strangers come in, people just stop by to say, ‘Thank you.’ The Plainedge Cheerleaders come every year to offer their support.
“We made $10,000 just on that day,” she explains. “Everything we raise gets divided among four Long Island coalitions.”
In total, more than $100,000 has been donated to Babylon, West Islip, Long Beach and Lean on Me in Great Neck.
The Cut-A-Thons have become so successful that Joico asked Christina’s assistance to create a template that other salons can replicate nationwide. Locally, Safie Salon in Massapequa and Amore Salon in West Babylon host Cut-A-Thons. Joico was so moved by Christina’s commitment to help other women that they produced a flat iron in her name and donated a portion of the proceeds to City of Hope.
Christina says that for her, the hardest thing was losing her hair. “It’s what I do for a living,” she says. When she knew it was the right time, she asked her son to shave her head.
To help other women get through the trauma of losing their hair, Christina opens her salon any time before or after hours to accommodate them.
“People can ask me or call me for anything, though I don’t have all the answers,” she says, but she knows that sometimes just talking to someone who has lived through it helps.
In 2010, Christina opted to have a second mastectomy and had trans-flap reconstruction surgery that took more than 12 hours. She is now cancer free.
“It was my only option,” she says of the surgery. “It was a long recovery.”
Christina believes that she has been given a second chance at life and is not missing a minute of it.
Top Cuts was recently featured on Bravo’s reality show Tabitha Takes Over and the salon was renovated as part of the show.
To raise more money for Long Island women with breast cancer, Christina founded LAX for Hope, an all-girls lacrosse tournament which will be hosted by Farmingdale State College on Oct. 6th. Girls ranging in age from 9 years old to high school teens will be competing in the tournament, with 50 teams already signed up to play.
“They will be all pinked out,” she says proudly. Her ultimate goal is to raise enough money to donate funds to all 10 Long Island breast cancer coalitions.
“I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and that I was diagnosed with breast cancer so I know what people go through so I can make a difference,” she says. “It makes it easier to do what I do.”
This year’s Cut-A-Thon is Oct. 26 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Top Cuts Salon, 3956 Hempstead Tpke., Bethpage. 516-579-8866. Info for Lax For Hope info can be found at BeautyForACure.org or email Christina@BeautyForACure.org