When Giulia Jones was diagnosed with breast cancer, feeling sorry for herself was never going to be an option.
For the Canberra mother-of-six and former Member of the ACT Legislative Assembly, it was the perfect opportunity to help other women with cancer. She decided to shave her hair to raise money for Pain Australia, for which she is now CEO, and So Brave, a breast cancer charity for young women.
Giulia had been going to Cataldo’s Salon at Civic “forever”. When she first came to Canberra, she asked where the best place was to get her hair done. Everyone told her Cataldo’s – an institution run by the same family since the 1960s.
“Because I had been going there for so long, and they’re such lovely people – and we have a similar migrant story Italian background – I went into Cataldo’s a few weeks back and asked if they would do the hair shave for me,” Giulia said.
“I spoke to Michael and he said, ‘you should meet my cousin Claudia’.”
Claudia Cataldo, creative director of the Civic salon, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2021 and has since had a mastectomy. She was, and still is, in remission.
“It was the most beautiful connection,” Giulia said. “It was one of those things that was meant to be.
“Meeting Claudia has made me feel hopeful about what I’m going through.”
Both women attributed their strength in times of crisis to their Italian family backgrounds.
Claudia, 34, third generation of the well-known Cataldo family, said the support she has had from her family was like lifeblood for her.
Her grandfather Giuseppe Cataldo came to Canberra in the 1960s, to work on the Snowy Hydro Scheme. “They needed carpenters back then, so he came over from Italy,” Claudia said.
“In 1965 he came to Canberra and opened the first salon. It was in Marcus Clarke Street near where the uni is. Then they moved to the Melbourne Building in Northbourne Avenue before we moved here [Ainslie Place, Civic] about five years ago.”
Her father Angelo and mother Luci continued the tradition, making Cataldo’s almost as much a landmark as the nearby merry-go-round.
After Claudia’s diagnosis and with her partner working full-time, Claudia moved back home with her parents and was “wrapped in cotton wool”.
“It was a massive shock for my family,” she said. “There was no history of it in the family and I was only 33 when I was diagnosed. But they gave me the most amazing support, cooked food for me, and lots of people came to visit which was really important.”
Claudia said one of her greatest fears post-diagnosis was the thought of losing her hair.
“It was a real thing for me,” she said. “Hair is such a part of a woman’s identity … my parents told me I was born with a head of black hair. I did freak out a bit but I was probably more upset when I lost my eyebrows – that made me look really sick.”
For Giulia, diagnosed in May this year aged 43, it was a shock even though her great grandmother, grandmother and two aunts had cancer.
With six children, ranging in age from five to 17, Giulia said she was not just worried about having cancer, but how, if she was off work, to pay all the bills.
“You can’t help but worry about those things even at a time like this,” she said. “But my kids were amazing. I told the younger ones that I had a cancer called `Bruce’ and that I was going to evict him. They thought that was hilarious.”
Claudia will shave Giulia’s hair on Monday, 31 July, at Cataldo’s in Civic. The aim is to raise money for other women living with breast cancer. But for Giulia and Claudia, it carries another meaning.
“Seeing Claudia come through this makes me feel so hopeful,” Giulia said.
“The fact we’re both Italian also helps. Italian families and friends always get in each other’s faces about things. But at times like this, it’s a good thing.”
To support Giulia and raise money for women living with breast cancer, go to the Pain Australia site.