Reporter Linda Lombroso wrote this story on our blogger, Rica Mendes, for the Sunday Life section on Nov. 20, 2011:
Every Sunday, we write about residents we call “rock stars,” but few of them are actually musicians — they are just local people who are in the spotlight, or who are deserving of some positive attention.
Rica Mendes just might be our first overnight sensation.
We met her, in late September, getting fitted for a wig at the American Cancer Society’s headquarters in White Plains. At 37, the divorced mother of two from South Salem had recently undergone a double mastectomy and was preparing for the eventual day when chemotherapy would claim her long hair.
Journal News photographer Xavier Mascareñas — who was at the cancer society on an assignment to shoot low-cost resources for breast-cancer patients — struck up a conversation with Mendes, who was there to select a free wig. Mascareñas asked if he could take her photograph. She agreed, and gave him her telephone number, too. We called her to follow up, and discovered she was a blogger and leader for LiveStrong, the cancer-advocacy foundation created by athlete Lance Armstrong.
We were looking for someone to blog for us during October, as part of our coverage of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and asked Mendes, who jumped at the opportunity.
The blog, which launched just days later, quickly became a hit with readers. In her chatty, no-holds-barred style, Mendes reported on her personal struggle, chronicling everything from her grueling chemotherapy treatments to the shock of losing clumps of her hair — which she captured, on camera, during one of her many video-diary posts.
“I’ve always been a heart-on-the-sleeve kind of person,” she says.
As tough as it must have been for Mendes, her frankness made us admire her even more — and her courage was inspiring to our readers, many of whom wrote to tell us so. After Mendes was bald, in mid-October, she continued to post video blogs staring straight into the camera.
In this information age, she says, people deserve to see and hear the truth.
“I’m bald, there’s no hiding that. And I’ve got cancer, it’s hard to hide that,” she says. “It takes a lot more strength and restraint not to talk about it.”