In new location, Image by Design continues no-cost salon services for cancer patients |

In new location, Image by Design continues no-cost salon services for cancer patients

After Erika Clawson was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2014, she received a variety of information from her nurse navigator about the diagnosis, treatment options and support services.

Included in that information was a referral to Meleesa Pellerino, owner of Image by Design.

As Clawson began treatment for the disease, she visited Pellerino’s hair and makeup studio often. For no charge, Pellerino helped her manage some of the physical effects of cancer treatment. She cut Clawson’s hair short as she began chemotherapy. Once Clawson’s hair fell out, Pellerino showed her different ways to use scarves and T-shirts as head wraps, and also helped fit her for a wig. Clawson learned how to draw on and fill in her eyebrows, and how to apply makeup to help mitigate some of the effects her cancer treatment was having on her skin.

Those visits helped Clawson look her best, even when she wasn’t feeling great.

“We’re trying to create an environment here that says, come home to a warm, safe place where you’re going to be loved on. We’re going to help you feel beautiful.”Meleesa Pellerinoowner of Image by Design

“When you’ve lost all that and you’re battling cancer, it’s like one thing that kind of lifts you up, if you can just look like you’re not sick,” Clawson said. “And [Pellerino] was great with that.”

When Pellerino first opened Image by Design on Alta Sierra Drive in 2012, her vision for the hair and makeup studio went beyond providing shampoos, cuts and color.

“A big drive for me was to reach out to the cancer community,” said Pellerino, 53.

In addition to the general services offered at the studio — haircuts, color and styling, makeup lessons and hair and makeup styling for formal events — Pellerino and her team, which includes hair stylists Tania Fisher and Demeri Falls, provide no-cost makeovers, makeup lessons and hair care services to women living with cancer.

Earlier this month, Pellerino relocated Image by Design to 239A East Main St., in Grass Valley, in part so the business would have more space to serve those women.

“We’re trying to create an environment here that says, come home to a warm, safe place where you’re going to be loved on,” Pellerino said. “We’re going to help you feel beautiful.”

Pellerino’s connection to cancer patients comes from her family’s history with the disease. About 10 years ago, she lost her 65-year-old mother to breast cancer and her 44-year-old sister to ovarian cancer. Pellerino also has an aunt who died of ovarian cancer.

After losing her mother and sister, Pellerino underwent testing and found out she was a carrier for the BRCA1 gene mutation, and at increased risk for developing ovarian and breast cancers. She had her ovaries removed, and also underwent a double mastectomy and a subsequent breast reconstruction surgery.

“I’m a previvor,” Pellerino said — a survivor of a predisposition to cancer who hasn’t been diagnosed with the disease.

After visiting the American Cancer Society website, she connected with the organization’s Look Good Feel Better program, in which beauty professionals volunteer to teach women with cancer how to manage some of the physical side effects that result from cancer treatment.

Shortly after she opened the studio, Pellerino, who has been styling hair for more than three decades, became a certified instructor for the program’s local workshops hosted at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital. Shortly after, she began offering one-on-one beauty consultations at Image By Design for women battling cancer.

“The fact that she has such a big heart and is willing to just put those services out there no matter the cost, it’s very inspiring,” said Fisher, who joined the salon in December 2013, and who recently completed training to participate in the Look Good Feel Better program with Pellerino.

The salon’s new space gives the stylists more room to better provide those no-cost services.

At over 1,200 square feet, the East Main Street salon is more than double the size of the former space. Pellerino was able to create a room, dedicated to her late mother, where stylists can work with cancer patients. The room can be entered through a private back door, in case any of the women are feeling self-conscious, Pellerino said. There is a curtain that can be drawn for further privacy from the rest of the salon, and one of the room’s walls is dedicated to displaying wigs that women will be able to try on and then have styled and clipped to suit them.

Part of what makes Pellerino special is not simply that she volunteers her time to cancer patients, but that she genuinely connects with each woman she meets, said Linda Aeschliman, the nurse navigator at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital’s Women’s Imaging Center who has observed Pellerino in action during the hospital’s Look Good Feel Better workshops.

“I just see her giving to people that specialness and attention that makes such a difference,” Aeschliman said. “Just being present right here, now, and [saying], ‘Here’s what we do have control over and so let’s just focus on that.’”

Pellerino, however, is quick to deflect praise from herself and heap it on others — including Fisher and Falls, who she notes have also committed to offering the no-cost services to cancer patients, and Image by Design’s regular customers, who have supported the salon for the past several years.

For Pellerino, Image by Design isn’t just a business. It’s a way to fulfill a calling to help others.

“We love these women, and that’s our driving force,” Pellerino said.

To contact Staff Writer Emily Lavin, email or call 530-477-4230.

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