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Spa lets moms struggling with ill children relax

From left, robe-clad Natalie Willis, Maria Gourrie (facing away), Robin Simms and Iris Padilla laugh with Sharin Nelson, far right, director of program development at the Children’s Cancer Center, at Grand Beauty Spa.

BRIAN CASSELLA | Times

From left, robe-clad Natalie Willis, Maria Gourrie (facing away), Robin Simms and Iris Padilla laugh with Sharin Nelson, far right, director of program development at the Children’s Cancer Center, at Grand Beauty Spa.

TAMPA — Thirteen mothers had to tear themselves away from their sick kids Sunday for some alone time with each other. It wasn't easy.

"Sean's still giving me a hard time," Holly Covais, 32, said when she walked into the Grand Beauty Spa in South Tampa, for a day of relaxation planned by the Children's Cancer Center.

"I didn't tell mine until this morning," said Maria Gourrie, 29. "They try to convince you, 'Mom, if I don't go, you're not going to have fun,' " Iris Padilla said. "Yes I will,'' the 27-year-old added.

Every day, these women juggle jobs, parenting and their children's cancer treatments. Some wake up in the middle of the night to go to work. Others quit their jobs for their kids' extended hospital visits. They struggle with medical bills, reactions to steroids, chemotherapy and worries.

Relaxation is a luxury. Sunday, for three hours, they indulged in free facials, massages, pedicures and water therapy provided by spa employees who came in on their day off.

"Mimosas?" Sharon Yerrid asked as she walked down the staircase of the five-star spa on Kennedy Boulevard.

The chair of the board at the Children's Cancer Center began the day-at-the-spa seven years ago, after running into a mom at a concert and finding her exhausted. Yerrid said the mothers she sees forget to take care of themselves when their children are sick.

Deanna Inglese has been putting off necessary doctor's appointments since her 3-year-old son, Jordan, was diagnosed with leukemia last September.

"I'm definitely going to make more of an effort to be there for myself. You just kind of lose yourself when you've got so much going on," she said with a head full of tinfoil. The 37-year-old from Palm Harbor hadn't had her highlights done in six months.

Most of Inglese's days are spent taking Jordan to the doctor, making sure he gets his daily medication and navigating the aggressive side-effects of his steroid treatments, including erratic moods and weird food cravings. Her nights are spent taking reservations for Continental Airlines. She starts work at 10 p.m. and gets home at 2:30 a.m.

Padilla can sympathize. The Tampa mother goes to school full time and wakes up at 3 a.m. for work. Her 7-year-old son, Nicolas, was diagnosed with leukemia last year.

On Sunday, the women enjoyed the fresh fruit and quiche, the sun deck and the lounge music. But what they enjoyed more was each other's company, and being able to talk about their lives with people who understand.

Inside a steam bath, Gourrie, Padilla and Natalie Willis, 37, talked about treatment and the people who helped them pay for it. How cancer changed their perspectives. And how they can't take a moment of any day for granted.

They walked out in plush robes. Yerrid was on the other side, with more orange juice and champagne. "We were just making a fresh pitcher, ladies!"

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at azayas@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3354.

Spa lets moms struggling with ill children relax 05/04/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 6, 2008 1:35pm]
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