Rockin Through Adversity

Amy Nicole Tangel

Battling cancer, raising a family and sharing a passion for music is all a-day-in-the-life for one woman who is using her voice to entertain and unite people.

A 43-year-old front woman has led Long Island’s Bon Jovi tribute band for the past five years.  Living in Lindenhurst, NY, with her husband and three children, Michele Miller is in remission from a recent battle with breast cancer and she’s ready to get back onstage and pay forward.

Although the pandemic of COVID19 has been an unwelcomed additional concern for Michele’s health, she has not let it touch her spirit. She said staying home with her family and staying safe is her utmost priority because she is living with a compromised immune system while she continues to undergo immunotherapy treatment. But, for Michele, the music never stops.

“If you ask anyone that lives with me, when am I not singing?  It’s very comical around here,” she said.

After a hiatus from social gatherings and performing with her band Lay Your Hands on Me while she underwent treatment, she hit the stage for the first time in recent months with their comeback show at Napper Tandy’s Irish Pub in Smithtown, NY, on February 29, 2020.  Days later, the quarantine went into place and everything was halted for Michele’s comeback, but she said she is grateful she has that night to look back on and draw strength from to carry her through.

“There was so much support that night from the local town itself.  There were hundreds of people.  That place was packed,” she said.

Michele has not taken the delay in getting back onstage lying down and has started going live on Facebook every Saturday night for an interactive session with family, friends and fans.  She said she wanted to create something that was organic and provide a fun way to interact with people.  An average Saturday night at home has turned into a following of hundreds of comments, shares and views of Michele singing songs she loves from Bon Jovi to Halestorm to Bret Michaels.  She has created her own virtual stage from her phone and a way to continue moving forward.

“It’s an outlet for me and an outlet for maybe somebody else that is home and going through a little something, and this affected them a little more,” she said.

Paying forward to those who helped Michele along the way during her battle with breast cancer has become an especially important part of her road to recovery.  Days after Michele received her diagnosis in December 2018, her husband came home and told her he had been laid off from his job.  It was more than anyone should have to go through, and Michele’s family and friends along with the local music community immediately came together.  Last May, a benefit was held at Revolution in Amityville, NY, for Michele thanks to the generosity and support of countless people.  The event was named, “Big Benefit for Little Michele,” which raised more than $10,000 to help Michele and her family the day before she went into surgery for a double mastectomy.  Michele said she was blown away by the fact that 17 bands came together, in one venue, from across the island to support her.  The love and energy of that day from everyone is something she said she will never forget.

“It was like a festival.  I was so overwhelmed with everything that was going on.  I couldn’t believe that they had a fundraiser that big,” she said.

This past November, Michele and her family were featured on, Family Kitchen Revival, a new cooking show on Prime Video starring Chef Jonathan Scinto, where she was given an opportunity to say thank you to those who have helped carry her through difficult times.  Throughout the series, Scinto helps eight families across Long Island prepare a special meal to say thank you to those who have helped them through a rough time in life.  Michele said when she was approached to come on the show she was still going through treatment and feeling really sick, so the show waited until she finished her chemotherapy and she was ready to share her story.  With her family and her band gathered in her home, she gave thanks to them.

A poignant moment in the episode comes when Michele stands in the bathroom mirror and removes her wig; a reflection of her journey.  Known as “Little Michele” to some, she is recognizable today to many in the local music scene as the pint-sized rocker with the bandana and the cool wig, but losing her hair was a very sad reality for Michele to accept.

“That part was hard.  It really was.  Besides not feeling well, to feel like you don’t even look like yourself, it really messes with you.  I just kept trying to push forward and do these bandana things and wig things to help make me feel like me,” she said.

Michele has continued to give back through music by performing for various charitable events for cancer along with her band, and she said she is passionate about continuing to help others.  Ronald McDonald House, Contractors for Kids and Jacob’s Hope are just a few of the charities Michele has donated her time and talents to support throughout the years.  The band has performed for events such as Rocking the Road for a Cure’s (RTRFAC) 10th annual motorcycle run to benefit breast cancer and recently entered themselves in a silent auction held by Pink Aid Long Island, an organization to support those battling breast cancer, and will be performing an upcoming show for the winning bidder.  Performing at fundraisers as a band and individually throughout her career before her diagnosis has always been a part of her life, and now she is just continuing with new meaning. 

“Giving back has always been part of my life as a musician,” she said.

To check out Michele’s live sessions and to stay up to date with the band, you can follow them on Facebook at Lay Your Hands on Me.

*Photos Courtesy Michele Miller, James Dima, Oscar Castaneda & Sean Holifield

Seashells of Hope Created for Nurses

Amy Nicole Tangel

Random acts of kindness are happening all around us, and one woman who has made it one of her life’s missions to help others is now helping raise up Stony Brook University Hospital filling windows and hearts with inspirational gifts of hope.

A Medford, NY, woman has recently helped to lift those working to save lives during the pandemic.  Hundreds of items from posters, to heart and hand cutouts, and now painted seashells with words of encouragement for ICU nurses have been created and distributed.

Susan Lauber, 48, is no stranger to volunteering. She has been a volunteer for Stepping-Stone Support through Survivors Helper for 14 years and a four-year veteran of Cycle for Survival, both organizations helping those affected by cancer

Her volunteer work all started with countless cutouts of hearts and hands she had left over from another project. Sitting at home wondering what she could do to help people at the hospitals, Susan thought maybe she could decorate them, make some signs and ask her friend who worked at Stony Brook University Hospital how she could make this happen.

“I used to work at Stony Brook Hospital, so when I made all of the signs, I included all of the dietary workers I worked with, Starbucks workers, the truckers, delivery and line workers; There’s a sign for everybody,” she said.

Kristin Steele, a social worker in the Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program (CPEP) with eight years of experience working at Stony Brook Medicine has been a friend of Susan’s for the past 25 years and said what she is doing is “absolutely amazing.”  Steele said Susan reached out to her and asked to help, just as a request was made for such items.  Soon, Susan had delivered approximately 200 hearts, hands and posters safely to Steele who in turn brought them to work with her to be displayed in the glass windows of the Starbucks in the main hospital entrance for all to see.

“The response I received when I submitted the posters and hands was first shock which quickly turned to pure joy.  Susie’s posters and hands were one of the first things to fill up the display wall here at Stony Brook,” Steele said.

Inspiration and the call to action came again with a walk on the beach after Susan and Steele had a conversation about how the ICU nurses’ mental struggles with what was going on and how the little things were lifting them up.  While walking along the beach, Susan began collecting seashells with her daughters and when she got home and cleaned them up, she said they were just so beautiful and she had to do something with them.  The answer came when she was watching T.V. and she kept hearing the saying, ‘We will get through this,’ and she thought to herself, ‘We shall get through this…We shell get through this!’.

With one thought, Susan created a whole process of painting, drying, and writing to decorate shells of all shapes and sizes that are wrapped individually in tissue paper, and placed in hand-decorated bags with inspirational nurse sayings.  To take the project one step further, she created hashtag, #operationweshell and launched an Instagram page for pictures from nurses who received shells that use the hashtag to continue to spread the chain of hope.

“I attached a little nurse’s prayer to the shell, so when they open the shell, they get to read a little prayer to themselves,” she said.

Fifty-five bags of seashells have been delivered to ICU nurses already, and Susan is currently working on 45 more to distribute, but she is looking for more shells.  She is having a hard time finding good ones now that are not broken and has been searching for ways to acquire more.

“I wrote a message on the inside of all of them.  ‘Thank you for keeping us safe.  We appreciate you’,” she said.

While Steele said she has not yet received any response from the seashells as they were delivered directly to the floor where nurses are treating the COVID19 patients, she said it was such a surprise for them to see the beautiful posters and hand cutouts submitted so quickly.  Not long after Susan’s items were displayed, Steele said she overheard staff talking about ‘the amazing posters made’ and had to stop and proudly share with them they were made by her friend.

“She plain and simple helped someone smile during a really rough day. That’s awesome in my book,” Steele said.

If anyone has seashells in good condition who would like to donate to #operationweshell, you can email Susan at ilovemygirls2820@gmail.com and arrangements for delivery while staying safely socially distanced will be made.

12-Year-Old Girl Sews Masks for those in Need

Amy Nicole Tangel

In a new era of coming together while social distancing, a 12-year-old Long Island girl is taking action to help others by using her talent of sewing to make masks for those in need for her community, and the response has been an outpouring of gratitude.

Madison Eddington, who lives in Medford, NY, with her parents, Brian and Annette and older brother Colin, has made more than 100 masks, and her list is growing. She said she was simply inspired to start making masks when she saw on the news there was a need. She had everything she needed at home to get going, so she said, ‘why not?’

“In my basement I found a whole three yards (of material), and I am already done,” she said.

Within just a few weeks, what started out as a hobby has become a contribution to her local community. With her father at the helm of the social media front and Madison behind the sewing machine, they made helping others a family mission.

Each mask is sewn, wrapped and delivered through no contact, with the help of her mom and dad, to mailboxes of those in need. People throughout the Patchogue and Medford communities, and beyond have been requesting masks from Eddington through social media, as she daily creates an ever-growing list of people.

The seed to sew was planted when Madison received a sewing machine as a Christmas gift from her aunt several years ago. The sixth-grader said she began sewing when she was 6 years old and took her first class. Her father describes her passion for sewing like a love at first sight moment. He said she was the one who came to them and asked to continue.

“She would actually call me and ask to stay (at the class) for another hour,” he said.

Patricia Fiebe, of Patchogue, a manager for FedEx and on the frontlines of the Covid19 fight every day with other employees, recently received masks from Eddington. Fiebe, a mother of one who lives with her elderly and immune-compromised parents, saw Mr. Eddington’s post on a Facebook community page so she put in a request. Within a few days she had a special delivery. Not only did Fiebe receive a mask to protect herself at work, but one for her daughter, mother and her sister who also works for FedEx.

“Thank you, Madison. You have no idea the impact this has made on me and my family. (The mask is) just making me feel a little more comfortable going to work, and my daughter feeling not so scared if I need her to run out with me,” she said.

Prior to the pandemic, Madison had a wide variety of things she would sew on a regular basis. When many other kids her age wouldn’t even dream of sewing, she was making pencil holders and pillowcases along with headbands and beach bags, just to name a few items in her inventory.

“I even made a quilt,” she said proudly.

When she is not sewing, Madison emphatically said she is all about sports. As a 6th grade student at Oregon Middle School, in Medford, she plays soccer and lacrosse. She is a soccer goalie and travels with her teams. With sports on hold for now, she has taken her competitive edge to a different area and is working on goals to make more masks per day.

“I make about 25 per day and they take about 15 minutes each to make,” she said.

Madison’s Math teacher, Beth Warnken has been teaching at Oregon Middle School for 31 years and said she was not surprised that Madison rose to the occasion to help out her community in time of need.

“I saw a post on social media that shared what she was doing, and she inspired me to sew some masks as well!,” she said.

Warnken said Madison was a “Student of the Quarter” award winner this past fall, earning an award given to students who exemplify excellence in academic qualities. The award is given to students who are always prepared for class, have good grades and who set a positive example for their peers by always going above and beyond with everything they do.

“All of Madison’s teachers agreed she fit the criteria, and we were proud to recognize her,” she said.

Masks made by Madison have been donated to essential workers with Long Island Community Hospital, Stony Brook University Hospital and CityMD, as well as nursing homes and nurses who have requested masks directly through social media.

Christine Cancel, a private nurse from Medford who serves as an essential worker in her community said she received two masks in her mailbox the same afternoon of her request. Cancel shared her appreciation not only for the work Madison is doing, but for what it is doing for her patients in particular.

“She did such a wonderful job as a lot of my patients are pediatrics, so walking in with your typical mask can scare them, and these were a little more friendly,” she said.

Medford resident, Sandi Morrissey who received masks for her family, which includes her 79-year-old mother, said Madison has been so generous in making and donating the masks for her local community.

Randie Vargin, of Farmingville received a mask to wear at her job at a cardiologist’s office where she said she has to be every day. “The quality is outstanding. You would have never known it was made by her. The fact that she is doing this for those who are ‘essential’ is so gratefully appreciated,” Vargin said.

While people she has helped are busy sharing their gratitude and trying to stay safe, Madison is busy sewing masks, doing schoolwork, and waiting for her delivery of more material to come in.

“It makes me feel happy. I want to do more to help people,” she said.

*Photos courtesy of Brian Eddington and Sandi Morrissey

Skin Care Artisan Creates Natural Products to Heal Hands

Amy Nicole Tangel

Pictured left, Sonny & Dew Owner, Louise Polite

While washing our hands is essential to health and safety, the potentially painful result of dry and cracked skin can be an issue.  Sonny & Dew, a natural skin care company on Long Island, is coming to the rescue with its all-natural handmade solutions for your hand sanitizing and moisturizing relief.

Owner and Artisan, Louise Polite, 51, created Sonny & Dew in 2013, and only seven years later, has won the title of Bethpage Best of LI in Skin Care from 2017-2019.  Located in East Islip, in the 2020 Bethpage Best of LI Hair Salon, Tresses & Colours, Sonny & Dew skin care products create a spa-like experience for clients when they walk in.   Although their doors are shut temporarily for in-person service, like many other businesses deemed non-essential here on Long Island, Louise is working from home to continue to provide skin care for her clients and shipping products to their homes.

“Now, everyone’s hands are taking a hit,” she said.

In 1996, Louise opened Tresses & Colours with her late father-in-law, and after he passed away, she decided to start a skin care line to pay tribute to him. Using his and his wife’s nicknames, Sonny & Dew was created.  With more than two decades of salon and client expertise, Louise is passionate about providing her services to clients who need skin and hair care.

“I like to think that I can change the way people feel about themselves by sometimes just the slightest change.  If you look good, you feel good,” she said.

The Day at the Beach Collection, Sonny & Dew’s most popular scent, includes a moisturizing body butter made of soothing ingredients such as shea butter, an all-natural handmade soap and shower gel.  The Unscented Hand Sanitizer & Day at the Beach Handwash Kit is available for $22.50 and Louise said is hands down Sonny & Dew’s top seller right now.  Next in line offered to help heal hands, is the Dry Hands Kit which includes items such as a moisturizing hand wash and a magic stick (solid moisturizer). 

Another way Sonny & Dew offers to lift their clients’ skin and spirits while they are staying at home, is with their At-Home Staycation Spa Kit that comes from the Day at the Beach Collection.  It includes two bath bombs, face and body scrub, moisturizing body butter and a triple butter soap that are paired together to culminate in the most relaxing and refreshing escape.

Jennifer Budveit, of Islip Terrace, has been a client of Louise’s for more than thirty years and said Day at the Beach and Perk Me Up are her favorites. She said everything Louise puts her mind to is done with style, grace and passion.  Budveit said she believes Louise’s ability to gain the trust of her clients and build an authentic rapport with them is why whenever she is looking to try something new, people are on board with her. 

“It has been amazing to watch Louise, Tresses & Colours and now Sonny & Dew thrive. Louise is an entrepreneur who truly cares about her clients, listens to what they are looking for, and is always striving to do more; it is part of the secret sauce to her overall success,” Budveit said.

Sonny & Dew recommends when using the Magic Stick to generously coat your hands at bedtime and if possible to put gloves on to even further improve results.  Esthetician and Make-Up artist, Christine Daino, owner of Total Glam NY in Bellport specializes in skin care providing high-end skin care treatments.  Daino said if one is suffering from excessively dry hands she highly recommends putting a heavy layer of moisturizer on your hands before bed and putting gloves on, sleeping with them on and removing them in the morning. 

“Your hands and cuticles will be a lot softer and hydrated.  Gloves will help with penetrating the product a little deeper.  If your hands are cracking, use Aquaphor in those areas.  For excessively dry cuticles apply cuticle oil,” she said.

Currently, Louise is working on creating a Healthcare Professional Kit to give back to the courageous and selfless medical professionals working tirelessly during the crisis.  When all is said and done she said she wants to be able to say thank you and help lift people back up.  “For what they are doing now, they deserve it,” she said.

As a special promotion for readers, Sonny & Dew is offering 30% off your entire order with promo code: healinghands when you shop at www.sonnyndew.com.  To keep up to date with events, pop-up shops at Tanger Outlets and all things Sonny & Dew, follow them on Facebook.

*Photos courtesy of Sonny & Dew