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Written by event beauty blogger: Jodi Decle

Sunday July 29, I had the most beautiful honour of attending an event at The Beauty Barn Spa called “Awakening to Better Beauty”. The relaxing drive through tree-lined country roads to get to the spa set the tone for the retreat experience of walking through the rustic yet elegant door and entering the breathtakingly beautiful space of the spa. 

Arriving at the event, I could already feel the excited anticipation and love that was present on the land and in the exquisite spa space created by Corrie Gallant and her husband Mark Aniol.  The relationship that these two share is a captivating thing to witness as they fully honour each other’s creative callings and visions and bring dream after dream to life including The Beauty Barn Spa which will be celebrating its 1 year anniversary this coming September.

“I’ve always had in the back of my mind that I would like the spa to be a relaxing retreat for people to come and be pampered; but most importantly, somewhere that chooses safer, more private services and products for those who are most sensitive because they are going through treatment” Corrie shared.  

Corrie hoped that the “Awakening to Better Beauty” event would be as successful and heart-warming as an event she’d had the pleasure of being a part of five years ago when she teamed up with photographer Tonia Lariviere of Delicate Impressions along with videographer Ramon Cespedes of RC2films and hairstylist Debbie Gallant: Corrie’s mom and premier Hairdresser at The Beauty Barn Spa.  

Back then, the idea was brought to Corrie by Tonia (Delicate Impressions Photography) who wanted to bring women together for a day of hair, makeup and a photoshoot with some beautiful keepsake photos for them to cherish forever.  The idea was brought on because Tonia had lost her mother to cancer and wished she had more photos of her mom.  She wanted Corrie to be a part of the event because of her training in Oncology esthetics.

Over the years, Corrie’s eyes opened up more and more to how needed this type of care and support is and now that she had her very own spa to host this year’s event, she saw the vision of having cleaner spa services such as clean make-up applications, hair-cuts and styling as well as a selection of wigs for the women to try and learn about, reflexology, scalp or foot massage, gift bags and a professional photoshoot.

In preparation for the Awakening to Better Beauty event, Corrie created posters and spread the word on social media about the opportunity for 10 deserving women to experience a day in the country; focusing on nourishing their souls with safer beauty products and surrounded by love.  She gathered a trusted team of women to be her Advisory Board including Debbie Bang, Cailynn Bateson, Melanie Scott, Jodi Decle, Gillian Lichota (I rise above foundation) and Morag Curran (Oncology training int. owner & professor) who were all asked to read through each one of the nomination submissions and select the 10 recipients of this amazing experience.

After receiving fifteen heart-felt and heart-breaking (yet beautiful) nominations of women in our community who’s friends and family members felt truly needed and deserved a day of beauty and soul nourishment at the spa, Corrie couldn’t only limit this to just 10 and found a way with the help from all her volunteers to accommodate all fifteen beautiful women by bringing in more support.

She recruited a stellar team of heart-centred volunteers and contributors to the event experience.  In addition to Ramon, Tonia and Debbie who had done a similar event with Corrie 5 years ago and returned this year to contribute their videography, photography and hair-styling services, the other volunteers on-site included Corrie Fournier-Bakker from Corrie Michael Photography who was our saving grace by joining our team last min in order to fit all the extra ladies in, Corrie Michale Photography tag-teamed with Tonia from delicate impressions to cover the entire day, Laura Hughes, Naturopathic Doctor who did Essential Oil education with DoTerra, Andrea Miller who provided reflexology, Joy Dorsey from Be Moved Yoga who provided education on body movement, Hazel Malcolm who assisted with Beauty Counter product education and helped host, Jenn Duff who helped Corrie with a lot of the event planning and preparations and also assisted with Beauty Counter product education and escorted guests to their various services throughout the day, Lisa Vezina from Hair to There who brought her mobile hair salon (aka beauty bus) to the event as the additional Hair stylist, Amanda Doxtador, esthetician at The Beauty Barn Spa provided make-up applications along with Amy Allison of Bare-UR-Beauty and Amanda Haarer from AH Make-up Artistry, the scalp and foot massages were provided by Erica Bowman, Alicia who sent pastries & assisted Michelle Palombi who was Corries main assistant with event planning and set-up and also catered an amazing charcuterie board that was healthy and delicious. Mike and Mark the brawn behind The Beauty Barn team, Myself Jodi Decle as the official beauty blogger and last but certainly not least, Corrie Gallant was the most amazing hostess and event organizer.

A gorgeous display of necklaces from Stella & Dot were available for the ladies to try on and wear during their photoshoots, Connie Huffman donated delicious pitas from Pita Pit, Nicole Benson of Nourished Body Inspired Soul who donated another amazing charcuterie board, Catherine Ferrar from Our Kitchen Brantford,Leanne at PBI Printing donated the posters and flyers for the event, Fab Print provided t-shirts for all of the volunteers to wear, Bird and Bee Vintage Rental Co. donated furniture and props for a beautiful outdoor lounge and photo vignettes. So many local businesses such as: Brant Cookies, JoRo Flowers, Teas & Toasts, Eucalan for fine washables, So divine crochet, Dried rose Bath salts from the Paris Apothecary, Dure Lifestyle Protein, Oily green hippy, Rose Quarts healing crystal bracelets from Natalie at Wabi Sabi, Pottery on Seven, Iron up & Junky Encores, My 5 senses bath bombs, The massage Pro, C shells Hand made soap, Inspirational hearts,Dear Martha Modern headwear for women with hair loss, Reiki at the wellness path,  Booster Juice, Starbucks, Shoppers Drug Mart on Colborne,  Amy Allison offered 30min personal training for recovery, as well as a few anonymous contributors, The Jelly Girls – Lavender loves lemon jellys, The Olive Oil Company as well as The Beauty Barn Spa’s core product suppliers: Beautycounter – Non toxic skin care line who believes women should not have to sacrifice their health in the name of beauty, Spa Ritual – Vegan polish and Kevin Murphy – Skin care for the hair all provided generous donations and contributions to the events gift bags that were handed to the ladies as they left the event, the Idea was to keep the love and support from the community going all through out the day and even when they arrived home and opened the gift bags. 

Inside the spa, Judy Porter sat with a look of pure peace and contentment as she relaxed waiting for her photoshoot. I recognized Judy from her well-known contributions in our community; as the owner of Inspirational Hearts (a boutique store dedicated to helping improve the quality of life for those living with cancer) and also founding creator of the annual fundraising event “Handbags for Hospice”.  

She was the first person I felt pulled to introduce myself to and chat about what this day meant to her.  Taking a moment to reflect, she got emotional as she recognized and appreciated all that went into the event “I’ve done fundraising and run a cancer support group and I know how much work goes into this…it takes a lot of people coming together and not everyone understands all of the work that goes on behind the scenes. I was just going to be a sponsor…I didn’t expect to be here as a guest. It is so heart-warming to see all of the people who came together from our community.”

She expressed “Instead of feeling alone in our struggles, it is nice to have an opportunity to be around so many other people going through some of the same things, connecting and sharing a fun day of pampering.  In the moment, you can actually forget what you are going through and just feel grateful and happy.”

Judy is a three time cancer survivor and as Corrie shared when she nominated Judy, she “is the type of woman that anytime there has been an event she can help out with or start up, she is the first one to have an open mind, open heart and always say yes with a smile on her face.  She has one of the only stores in our area, solely focused on the essentials you would need to enhance the quality of life while going through your cancer journey. 

“Judy was the first one to put our posters up in her window and hand out flyers to her customers.  Not once did she ever think about nominating herself (even though she had every right to)…her focus was on her clients and who she could help out.  I have so much admiration for her with everything she has been through and how she’s come out on the other side; sharing and helping others in our community.” Corrie shared.

Being that this was actually the day after Judy’s birthday, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect to give back to this amazing woman who has given so selflessly over the years. Today it was all about her receiving!  She sat on the cozy chaise chair in the beautiful, light-filled, vaulted-ceiling room at the spa; soaking up the feeling and glowing with beauty and gratitude as she told me all the things she’d enjoyed about this special day.  

She’d received a relaxing reflexology treatment, had her make-up done professionally and her hair styled with some beautiful, full barrel curls which she described as a little extra special look compared to the way she styles her hair on a daily basis.  She looked like she was ready for a fabulous, fun party!  She sure deserves it!

The next beautiful woman that I had the opportunity to sit with and interview was Kailey McGilivary who at the age of 30 has been diagnosed with Stage 3 Breast Cancer and was actually scheduled to start months of chemotherapy and radiation treatments the day after the event.  

As Kailey’s friend wrote on her nomination, “this is not something someone this age is prepared for”.  Yet, despite her diagnosis and impending treatments, Kailey took the news in the best way she knew how and told her close friends “I have no doubt that I will come out of this okay and I ask for you to think of me well and send out all the good vibes and love that you can”.

Kailey shared with me how touched she was to be so warmly welcomed and lovingly treated to having her hair and make-up done and receiving a relaxing reflexology treatment.  She was blown away by how kind, compassionate and thoughtful everyone at the event was. She described the atmosphere of the spa as oozing relaxation and peace “there’s something about this place…it’s a feeling…it is intimate and all the staff are so sweet and helpful”. 

Prior to starting the cancer treatments, Kailey underwent fertility treatments and preserved her eggs for the opportunity of having children in the future.  She described one of the highlights of the event as learning more about safe, high quality make-up and skin care products she could use that would not cause any hormone disruption for her or add any toxins in to her body.

As the owner of the spa and with the Oncology Aesthetics training and having gone through infertility treatments herself, Corrie was acutely aware of the impact of hormone-disrupting, toxic ingredients and did meticulous research and product testing for her spa to ensure the products she chose were the best. Corrie is passionately taking a stand to bring awareness and education about safe beauty and empowering women to know the difference.  

Corrie chose to open the nominations to both women who had been through cancer and fertility treatments as they would each fully understand and appreciate the priority and importance of taking care of their body’s health and hormones more than ever.

The main skincare and cosmetics line that she uses and highly recommends is “Beautycounter” of which Corrie can do education classes and has the full line and selection of products available for her clients to try out; selecting their perfect colours and tone choices for their personal make-up looks.  The Beauty Barn also proudly uses products from SpaRitual – cruelty free vegan polish created without formaldehyde, DBP, toluene & formaldehyde resin. And in the Hair Salon, Debbie uses Kevin Murphy’s line of highest quality fragrance free essential oil based sulphate and parabin free, cruelty free hair care products.

Kailey, she gushed about how amazing Corrie was to do this and how happy she was to know that people could reach out to The Beauty Barn for resources when going through similar struggles to her’s, She said “I know nothing like this has ever existed here before”.  

But it was Kailey’s final comments that made time stand still for me and had me holding my heart and then reaching out to hug her…She talked about synchronicities and messages that had been coming through. One of the strongest messages being about how important it is for us all to take the time to take care of ourselves.  And looking out at the road before her, with chemotherapy starting the next day, it blew my mind and cracked my heart open in the most beautiful way when she told me that she was actually “looking forward to the lessons that were ahead of her, to feeling reborn, to letting go and being in the present moment; trusting and enjoying the simple pleasures”. How does a human being get more beautiful than that?! Wow! What an amazing woman!

After my time with Kailey, I ventured outside to the cool, mobile “hair bus” and met Jackie who was getting some waves and curls as a fun change from her every-day style.  She was there with her sister-in-law Katrina who nominated her and who was also nominated after going through fertility treatments.

Jackie (age 34), described her experience with cancer as a shock and whirlwind but also remarked that it has brought her and her husband so much closer and that they have a deep appreciation for each other.  Jackie is the mom to a 6 year old and an 8 year old and she described how important it is for her to stay positive for them.  She said family has been the biggest blessing throughout “you become more grateful for your whole family and there is a much greater sense of closeness. It puts things into perspective of what’s really important in life…if you don’t have your health, you have nothing!” 

She was honest about it not being positive every day “there are days when I feel I got this and everything is good and days when it hits me hard and I think holy shit!” and that’s when she has to kick her positive self-talk into high gear and always go back to her practice of gratitude.  “Out of something bad, there is always something good…a silver lining.  It makes you think about what really matters and you let go of the things that don’t.”  She also chooses to surround herself with positive people as she moves forward towards healing.

Jackie described the transformation that has taken place within her of going from someone that tended towards being a self-proclaimed “control freak” to now leaning on the comfort of her faith and her relationship with God.  She said the comfort now ironically comes from knowing that everything is out of our control but that she is still supported and taken care of “I feel like there are signs everywhere when you open up your heart. I thank God every day I can get out of bed and be there with my kids.” And she described a sense of calmness that comes over her when she prays. 

Another part of the silver-lining that she has experienced so far is that she takes the time to slow down and appreciate everything and everyone.  She also enjoys quiet time a lot more and feels very connected and in sync with her intuition.  She has learned that “happiness comes and goes but once you find your contentment, you don’t need anything. As long as I have my health and my family, that’s what I truly care about…not things.  It’s about sharing time and giving back to others.” With a glowing smile and a present sparkle in her eyes, Jackie was in awe of all that she had received at the event and said “you meet people when you need them the most”.

Next, I spent some time getting the perspective of Jenn, Corrie’s friend who flew in from Phoenix, Arizona to assist Corrie with the event.  She said it was “fascinating to watch everybody come together and pull off the event flawlessly” especially with the curveball being thrown to Corrie days before the event when she was injured in quite a severe car accident being hit by another driver. “After the car crash, Corrie was checking in on us to make sure everything was going smoothly”.

“It takes courage and vision to put yourself and your ideas out there” like Corrie has done.  For some people, they get the ideas and inspiration but it takes the next level of belief, drive, hard work and commitment to follow through and bring something like this to life.  

Jenn really enjoyed watching everything and everyone rise up to support Corrie in creating the magical experience of the event. “Today has all flowed organically” she remarked.  And she was so moved as she witnessed “the joy in people’s faces; a spark…they truly left uplifted”.

She also loved watching the men (her partner Mike and Corrie’s husband Mark) so involved and said “we all give her support with her vision because we believe in her! She forges ahead with confidence and has a courage like no one I have ever seen…she just does things! She is a special person with a beautiful energy that people feel.  She does everything out of the kindness of her heart.”  Jenn also spoke about how much she admired Corrie’s vast knowledge and capabilities to help people light up from the inside out. “If you ever get the chance to know Corrie, knowing her changes your life.”

In the beautiful, light-filled hair salon with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the lush, natural landscape, Debbie was just sweeping up from the last hair-cut and style when I asked if I could sit and chat with her for a few minutes. I wanted to hear her experience of the day.  

She started by taking a deep and present inhale as what looked like her breathing it all in for a moment…”I can’t believe how grateful they all are!” In chatting with all of the ladies throughout the day, she’d noticed some beautiful strings that connected them all “for every one of them, to wake-up is a big deal…they notice and appreciate moments and opportunities in life by being present.  They are happy and positive!  Their eyes light up!  They are so thankful and so brave to tell their stories from the bottom of their hearts.  It has been wonderful to listen to them today and it is making me wake up.”

Debbie was also touched by the many customers and neighbours who wanted to help in any way they could. “There were way more people who wanted to be here volunteering than we could fit in the space.”  I asked Debbie what she thought of her daughter for doing this event, especially after having a concussion and injuries which inhibited her mobility since the car crash. Debbie lit up with a mother’s pride as she spoke “Corrie is amazing!  She has a good heart!  She gets inspired with an idea and she just does it!  She believes these people deserve this and so she makes it happen (even with a broken foot).  She is 100% a gem!”  Debbie described something unique about Corrie…she said “some people need to read books and try to learn and figure things out…but to me, Corrie IS THE BOOK…She’s the book!”

The last nominee that I had the pleasure of interviewing for the day happened to be award-winning broadcaster from The Weather Network, spokesperson for The Breast Cancer Society of Canada, and Ambassador for the iRise Above Foundation, Kim MacDonald.

Kim and I went into one of the private spa rooms as the volunteers began to pack away the food and clean-up from the event.  It felt like we had entered a cozy and beautiful cocoon as she shared with me a bit about her own story of her cancer journey as well as her mission now and her impressions from and gratitude for the day.

“I didn’t know what to expect” she said, but described The Beauty Barn Spa as “serene and rustic with the outside elements just as beautiful as the inside”.  She said “It’s nice that this place is an easy ½ hour drive from where I live in Hamilton” and noted “you feel comfortable and welcomed when you walk in”.

In December 2016, Kim was diagnosed with breast cancer “I was in the public eye when I got sick and everything happened so quickly”.  As shocking and overwhelming as it was, she knew one thing for sure “I had to find purpose in this”.  She can go back to that moment where she bravely tweeted publicly “got breast cancer, need to go kick its ass” and remembers the feeling of getting such a response “it was like nothing I’d ever seen before”.  And so began her experience of fighting and overcoming cancer while documenting and sharing her entire journey through her blog “Weathering Cancer”,

Next thing she knew, “the blog blew up and I had my head shaved live on Facebook. Even though everyone has their own unique experience, I was helping family members understand what their loved ones were going through. People were learning stuff from me and my journey as I was learning it; like what it was like to be in chemo and how it felt on the drugs.”

In addition to chemotherapy, she had a double mastectomy and 25 rounds of radiation over five weeks.  Kim reflects. “I got a ton of love, support and feedback towards me” which added to her own strength and then she was ready to help other people “I had no idea I was that strong (but I had 2 children so I had some idea)” she laughed.  “I have a drive to make other people’s lives easier now.”

During her journey, she was able to do the “Look Good, Feel Better” Program which she greatly appreciated and took 3 months off to recover, then went back to work and back on TV with very short hair.  She was also in the “Run ForThe Cure” commercial and billboards in Toronto.

“The person I am now is very different to the person I was before getting cancer and it is not all positive.”  She explained that although she has a positive outlook on her life and doesn’t take things for granted, “there’s a PTSD with cancer treatment that is hard to shake”.  Her body had a wonderful response to treatment “but the treatment also left a little more fear and anxiety than before. I do have a greater appreciation for life” she said but she also misses “the body I had and I miss not having to worry.” 

From her own experience, Kim knows that along the journey “you can really start to lose your confidence because of the physical changes and anything that can help you to step away from it all and feel good again is so needed and makes such a difference.” Kim thoughtfully expressed,“I don’t think the people who put on something like this understand the full impact. It really restores your belief in humanity…people change…their eyes light up” she exclaimed.

“Brantford doesn’t have much in the way of programs like many other cities do, so this event has been amazing! Anything positive to help survivors but especially those currently going through something” she shared.  “I had an amazing foot massage and all of the treatments were great. I love that all of the volunteers looked genuinely happy to be here. They were charming, friendly, warm and kind.”

My interview with Kim came to a close with 3 main messages that she wants to give people now:

1. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. 

2. Things are different now but it’s okay.

3. You have more strength than you know.

My heart was full from all that I had witnessed and received throughout the day and I had to take a moment to check in with Corrie and celebrate the success of the event before I left. She had pulled it off and now she could breathe and unwind and focus on healing and recovering fully from her accident.

Corrie shared that she’d had the idea and intention for this event in the back of her mind for a few years now She volunteers with the look good feel better organization and said that Brantford doesn’t have program available here and the women need to go out of town to axes this group, most of the time its hard to travel when you’r feeling exhausted from treatments. Corrie wanted to bring something similar to her town. With look good feel better they are a product neutral organization and work with multiple big brand companies who generous donate and the cosmetic advisors are unable to talk about product safety. LGFB program is based solely on the application process & she loves that there is a program for this but in her spa environment the one question that keeps popping up is are these products safe. being involved in oncology esthetics and having her own spa allowed her to personally select the donations that were going into there bags allowed her to speak about safer products on behalf of all the contributors. When she recently attended an International Conference for Beauty Counter, where a guest speaker, Tom Scott, from the Nantucket Project, helped encourage her vision of bringing this event to life. He said,“If you have something in you, you have to do it”.  Hearing those words turned the spark inside of her into the flame that was ready to bring the event to life now.

Corrie shared that her favourite part of the day was “how all the nominees were able to meet each other and bond with people going through some of the same experiences but in a loving setting.” She continued “it was really great to hear them say how wonderful it was to have something positive to look forward to because it keeps your mind off all the hard stuff that they are dealing with on a daily basis”.  

She was blown away by how many gifts came in from businesses and people who wanted to contribute.  She remarked “one vendor lost her sister a week ago to cancer”. Corrie could see the willingness of the community to come together in oneness and love. “We need more of this to happen in our community.  One small business cannot handle the whole amount of support that people need. People with wellness oriented services like yoga, massage, essential oils, healthy food, etc. could bond together and create more opportunities like this!”

Since the accident, there were a lot of things that Corrie had planned to do herself that she was physically no longer able to do. “My dear friends Michelle, Jenn, and her partner Mike and my amazing husband Mark really stepped up to the plate and took on my responsibilities. It took a village  including friends and neighbours and I cannot thank everyone enough.”

She gave special mention to her mother in law Debbie Bang who inspires her and has been such an amazing support to her getting her idea off the ground. Debbie was in tears because she wanted to be there for the event but was simultaneously hosting her own event for the 17th year, “Swim for the Cure” swimming 13 kilometers  across the Severn River, where she has has raised to date over $200 000 for breast cancer research.

Corrie’s final thoughts on the day were: “I love working with people that I admire, especially people who rally other women and are not in competition with each other. My advisors were chosen because of their professions. They are also women who love what they do …they additionally uplift, support, encourage and promote one another.  It feels like everyone who contributed to the event is one big tribe now. A tribe that worked with me while I described the vision in my head and who allowed me to feel comfortable and supported when I asked for exactly what I needed to bring the vision to life.” 

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