Ecoute Cancer Réconfort

Photo: Manuel Vitali/Direction de la Communication

In October, the Princess Grace Hospital Centre launched its BreastDay Centre devoting a single day to screening, diagnosis and pre-therapeutic support for breast cancer – with having results the same day.

Cancer support is something Valérie Barilaro knows all about. “My father, who left too soon and too young, died of cancer 25 years ago. And as a beautician, which is about wellbeing, touch and listening, I naturally leaned towards helping and supporting others, in particular with Ecoute Cancer Réconfort.”

For the past seven years, Valérie has been president of Ecoute Cancer Réconfort, which on November 29 will celebrate its 30-year anniversary at the Monaco Yacht Club in the presence of Prince Albert and the association’s honorary president, Princess Stephanie.

I had the genuine pleasure to meet Valérie and learn about Ecoute Cancer Réconfort at a MonacoUSA event at Before back in March. The Monegasque association was created in 1992. “Thirty years ago, supportive did not really exist for cancer patients,” explains Valérie. “Our first president, Martine Vacarezza, realised there is an emptiness when you come out of heavy treatments after spending months going to the hospital almost daily. Overnight there is nothing left, no more appointments for three months for that first post-cancer assessment. On the outside everything seems great but for a cancer patient a deep anxiety sets in with the loss of those reassuring hospital landmarks – meeting doctors, routine tests – even if you just want to take your life back.”

Martine had the idea of ​​setting up a support hotline but quickly Ecoute Cancer Réconfort’s founding members understood that more was needed. In the days before VLS (Véhicule Sanitaire Léger/Light Medical Vehicle) taxis that were reimbursed drove people to the hospital, the association offered a car service driven by volunteers to get cancer patients to their treatments. Over time, with a few succeeding presidents, the association evolved with volunteers keeping cancer patients company during chemotherapy.

In 2009, the life-changing Espace Mieux Etre opened its doors at l’Atalante in Fontvieille. This non-medical day care center specialises in free cancer support care provided by seasoned professionals, from psychologists who also practice art therapy through drawing, writing or painting to naturopaths (energy, plantar reflexology, mindfulness meditation, advice on nutrition). Socio-aesthetics (social and aesthetic care) is also on the menu to help manage self-image and confidence in a post-cancer world with treatment side-effects on the skin and nails, as well as alopecia and scarring. Espace Mieux Etre likewise offers sport activities essential to rehabilitation, including tai chi, yoga and hiking, as well as various workshops throughout of the year, in particular, a “self-esteem weekend”.

For anyone like me who has witnessed a family member or friend undergo cancer treatment , this association hits home. Espace Mieux Etre is open to anyone affected by cancer, undergoing treatment or in remission, as well as their families and loved ones, in Monaco and its surroundings.

One cancer patient shares, “There is no way to absorb the news of a doctor announcing face-to-face: ‘You have cancer.’ Time stops and quickly you enter into another world. You do what you have to do but it is not enough. Ecoute Cancer Réconfort is the beginning of mental recovery, a new way of absorbing your sickness. Providing all the various help you need, physical and psychological, in parallel to the treatments, they help you to regain your self-esteem, your strength and advance in your new life. They are not an option, they are an absolute necessity to your full recovery.”

Another expresses, “Ecoute Cancer Réconfort offers us a life despite the disease. We are pampered, like in a cocoon, and this allows us to face everyday life with greater ease. Psychologists, energy treatments, socio-beautician, meditation, conferences, hikes, various and varied workshops punctuate our daily lives and contribute to our wellbeing. The psychological support from each therapist, as well as the benevolence of the volunteers, allows us to go through this period as calmly as possible but also to prepare our future solidly.

“The association is a refuge, a bubble of oxygen and sometimes happiness in our daily lives, and helps us to grow, evolve and come out stronger than before the disease. We can confide without a filter, share our doubts and our fears, which we try to spare our loved ones. It is also very comforting to know that spouses or family can benefit from this support because they need it as much as we do. I am grateful to Ecoute Cancer Réconfort, I wouldn’t be who I am without their help.”

Valérie adds, “A supported patient is a patient who is doing better, who can express his or her fears, talk, exchange with a professional or another patient, or quite simply find an attentive ear, which may not necessarily be the case at home with family or friends. What we see is the evolution of patients over their time with us. Their evolution, their dynamism, their way of bouncing back from the disease when they are accompanied along their journey. We are not concerned only with statistics. ”

This year, Valérie approached Natasha Frost-Savio, president of Pink Ribbon Monaco to help them spread their message during breast cancer month and on Valérie’s initiative, all civil servants in the Principality wore a pink ribbon as a gesture of support and solidarity on October 6. “Even though Pink Ribbon specialises in breast cancer prevention and Ecoute Cancer Réconfort wears several hats, we are partners, like a sorority, and very complementary. Prevention is essential so that we have fewer serious cases on our end.”

The association organises a members’ dinner during the winter and lunch in the summer. “This year for Pink October we had a pink hike where patients could bring whoever they wanted. It gave us the idea to offer it to members for next year. Otherwise, there is the galette des rois in January and the general assembly which allows us to meet our members.”

Valérie says that Ecoute Cancer Réconfort has invited members, sponsors and partners to the anniversary event on November 29, we to says thanks to those who have supported us all these years and without whom this would not be possible. “But we always need new sponsors, donors, members and volunteers to continue our actions because more and more people are becoming sick.”

To donate, volunteer, become a member or learn more, see the Ecoute Cancer Réconfort website.

CHPG’s BreastDay Centre is open Monday to Thursday 9 to 12 and 1 to 5 and Friday to 3:30. For more info, contact +377 97 98 99 55 or contact.sein@chpg.mc

Natasha Frost

Natasha Frost, founder Pink Ribbon Monaco.

Natasha Frost was born in London to an American film producer dad and British mom with a passion for writing screen plays and playing the piano and cello.

“At the time he met my mother, my dad was working with United Artists on the Beatles films when he came to London and was involved in the signing off on the first Bond film with Sean Connery, initially to be in black and white,” recounts Natasha Frost. “In 1970, he was also the first American to produce a film for the National Theatre, Anton Chekov’s Three Sisters, starring Laurence Olivier, Alan Bates, Joan Plowright.” 

Flawlessly bilingual, Natasha, along with her brother and sister, learned French attending the Lycée Français in South Kensington. When her parents separated, her mom, who was re-writing a screenplay commissioned for TV, brought the kids to Beaulieu-sur-Mer so they could improve their French on holiday while her dad went to LA to produce two films. “My father ended up staying in LA and re-marrying a wonderful lady. Mom loved living in Beaulieu, where she put us into the local maternelle because she saw what a difference it was to bring up three children down here rather than in the centre of London.”

Natasha later became, literally, a kid in a candy store, when her mom remarried a Frenchman who owned (still owns) the family-run candy factory Nice Bonbon.

“While my bio-dad would send us cool things from movie sets and photos of our favourite stars that we would show off at school – a photo of him as VP of Universal Studios with my idol, David Bowie, when he sold the rights to Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, is still my prize possession! Needless to say, we also were quite popular thanks to our step-dad and the silly amounts of candy we would give out!”

Natasha admits she was an “unrepentant book worm who read voraciously,” devouring most of Zola and all Maupassant by the time she was thirteen. “I figured out how to speed read diagonally around 12, but I’m not sure I absorbed the meaning at that age! My sister and brother thought I was a real geek, back in the day when it was not cool to be a geek, but later on in life, especially when I went to LA to finish high school, I found myself quite comfortable with the curriculum. When I read Jules Verne’s Voyage au Centre de la Terre, I decided I needed to become an archaeologist-explorer.”

She was passionate about history and, in the early days of college at Humboldt State University in Northern California, “obsessed” with medieval manuscripts. “The idea had evolved to become a parchment-velum restorer,” she laughs. “Life clearly had another plan for me.”

After getting her degree in 1995, Natasha returned to France for the summer to visit her mom, step-dad and siblings for the summer. “I got a summer job at Stars’n’Bars in Monaco … and never left. I was having way too much fun to go back to school.”

Her plans certainly did change. These days, Natasha is widely known as founder and tireless campaigner of Pink Ribbon Monaco, a non-profit association to support cancer awareness. “I set it up for two reasons. Firstly, I felt there were too many cases of breast cancer that were going undetected for too long. I had family members and friends affected and I can easily say that most of the worst cases would have been easier to cure if detected earlier. I figured, let’s start doing something about it.

“Secondly, I had been to many Pink Ribbon awareness walks in LA, which were way more than a pretty stroll in pink clothes – it was a day of women’s empowerment, women supporting women and joyful sisterhood. I felt that Monaco needed some of that vibe. I thought I could bring something positive to my beloved Principality.”

Natasha was invited to speak at the United Nations in New York representing Monaco for a Breast Cancer event in march 2018. “I am still so proud to have represented Monaco in such a prestigious place,” she understates.

Over the past ten years, Pink Ribbon Monaco has gone from a small and relatively unknown local entity to a calendar event with their annual 5-km port-palace-port walk supported by the Palace (Prince Albert opened the walk last year), the government and Minister of Health and Social Services, Didier Gamerdinger, as well as the President of the National Council, Stéphane Valeri and the Commisson de Protection et Promotion des droits de la Femme (Natasha is a committee member).

“Our main events are the walk, sadly cancelled this year due to Covid, and our Pink October illuminations held on the first Thursday or Friday of October, when we ask key local landmarks to light up in pink in support of breast cancer awareness and the patients fighting the fight. We had to cancel last October, but in 2019 it was under the High Patronage of Prince Albert and attended by our special guest, Oscar winner Jodie Foster, who was awarded the Pink Ribbon Award for her positive impact on women.”

This year, the walk was scheduled to take place on Valentine’s Day, but was cancelled for obvious reasons. Instead, Pink Ribbon Monaco came up with the idea of a virtual support event on social media –#seinvalentin, a play on words as Saint-Valentin in French is pronounced the same as sein, the French word for breast.

“We are simply asking people to show their support on Sunday, February 14, by posting a photo of themselves in pink, holding a sign with a message of support, using the hashtags #seinvalentin and #Pinkribbonmonaco. We will repost everything in our story and hope to get loads of posts. This will show our support to our loved ones and remind everyone to get checked.”

Natasha does not mince her words. “Covid has had a terrible impact on our association, not only because our te10-year anniversary events have been cancelled, but, more importantly as we have been made aware of massively lower numbers of breast cancer screenings. Princess Grace Hospital reminds everyone that these screening appointments are maintained and there is no health risk in going to the hospital to get your mammogram.”

Her message is clear in reminding women that the Covid pandemic should NOT prevent testing. “Pink Ribbon in Monaco and its life-saving message is hugely important to me and I have full admiration for the devoted people at Centre Hospitalier Princesse Grace doing everything they can to fight and cure breast cancer. It is safe and essential to continue testing and ensure family members do so.”

Natasha at theUN in New York.

Family is clearly a priority for Natasha, who gushes how proud she is of “my large, recomposed family and they are all part of the cool things in my life.” Her brother, Matthew Frost, is a double Clio winner (the Oscars of Advertising) and fashion photographer who has shot some of the biggest celebrities (Kate Winslet, Reese Witherspoon, Karl Lagerfeld, Cate Blanchet, Damian Hirst to name a few…) for Vogue, L’Officiel, Jalouse and others. Her step-brother, Noah Wyle, played Dr Carter in the American TV drama ER “for ages.”

Her fashion-designer sister Allegria of Balenciaga and ACNE fame is “an amazingly talented designer who also works tirelessly as an activist for the preservation of the planet.” Her youngest sister Victoria is a business entrepreneur while “my eldest, crazy sister Tabitha has amazing artistic and interior architecture talent which has influenced us all.”

Her siblings on the Wyle side are equally accomplished. “My sister Alex is one of the foremost equine vets in the US with three clinics to her name in California and my brother Aaron is a top executive at HEB in Texas.”

Natasha is currently helping her step-dad rebrand and develop his 75-year-old family-owned candy business. The confectioner has just signed a partnership with the Petit Prince-Saint Exupéry Foundation and has been granted exclusivity for a Petit Prince range of nostalgic, delicious and all-natural range of caramel sweets.

“This is a big deal for me as I have always been passionate about Le Petit Prince, and it was sort of serendipitous to have this opportunity as, since his birth, my son Magnus has reminded me physically of the main character. Way before this happened, I was reading him the pop-up child-friendly version.”

Using local butter and sticks are made of wood, the exclusive Petit Prince range by Nice Bonbon – whose old-school website relaunches the first week of February – should be available in the early spring.

Natasha and Roberto at Blue Coast Brewing launch. Photo: Nancy Heslin

It was nearly nine years ago when Natasha was flying home from a holiday at her step-dad’s place in St Barts when Swede Roberto Savio popped on the flight at the Curacao layover. “He was seated next to me. It was a fun flight to Amsterdam,” Natasha laughs. They married and has Magnus five years ago.

The couple are also business partners. In 2017, the dynamic duo launched  Blue Coast Brewing Company, an idea that came to them after a trip to a friend’s brewery in San Diego the year before. “We shared the idea with some friends and investors – including 2018 Monaco Grand Prix champ Daniel Ricciardo, 2009 F1 World Champion Jenson Button and founding partner Shane Heminway, amongst others – without whom the project would not have taken off financially. Our plan was that should things go well and become successful, we would pass the show so to speak after a certain amount of time to a new team because we are entrepreneurs at heart.”

Natasha is still the CEO of the French company but is happily passing the torch in the coming month while CEO Predrag Krupez, a “young and super dynamic guy” who was one of the first investors, continues to take the Nice-based brewery to a whole new level. “Thanks to Predrag and the talent of our brewer Robert Bush, we have a great new collaboration beer with a UK brewery and, despite Covid, great things are coming.” The couple is still amongst the top five Blue Coast shareholders.

Meanwhile Natasha is in the process of setting up a communication company, High Octane Communication. “I’ve had so many requests to share my branding and marketing skills,” she says modestly. “And Roberto and I are working together on some exciting new projects together, too. We are a team.”

Post your Pink Ribbon Monaco photos on Sunday, February 14.
Remember to hold a sign with a message of support and hashtag #seinvalentin #Pinkribbonmonaco