What Love Does: Grace + Grit Spa offers healing treatments for cancer warriors

At the moment, Montgomery Road in Silverton is a mess of construction. Trucks roll past Grace + Grit Spa repaving the street, and shouts of construction workers mingle with frustrated commuters throughout the narrow, one-way stretch of road.

But inside the spa is bliss. The calm atmosphere and soothing energy of both the space and the owner/esthetician, Crystal Grace, makes it easy to tune out the noise. Everything is cream and white with pops of color from plants and throw pillows. A station set up with hot tea features both honey and oil of oregano, and Grace and her massage therapist, Sha-Kim Smith, make their own ice cubes out of ground ginger, turmeric, and pepper.

To them, wellness is a multi-faceted journey.

“We look at self care as health care,” says Grace. “This is not about pampering, this is not about frou-frou feel good, this is about healing and getting out in front of some of those illnesses that are caused by stress, neglect, and mental fatigue.”

Grace is no stranger to the effects of stress on health. Seven years ago, she suffered from PTSD, depression, and anxiety brought on after finding a coworker dead in his home. The diagnosis and subsequent medication led her to a career change and a desire to explore natural healing through self care.

This past Valentine’s Day, Grace was able to share her desire to heal when she launched What Love Does, a cancer initiative inspired by one guest at Mitchell’s Salon & Day Spa more than six years ago.

“I was working at Mitchell’s and had a lady that came in that was obviously suffering from the effects of chemotherapy, she was very frail, and I just had this overwhelming feeling of compassion for her,” says Grace. “I knew I was supposed to just love on her. I did the facial … and a couple days later, she wrote this letter in to Mitchell’s that just had us all in tears about what that facial did to her soul and how she felt like she could fight what was ahead of her.”

The compliment, according to Grace, lead to a vision from God where she first opened her own business and then encouraged all the spas in the city to join together for a day of self love and self care for cancer patients and their caregivers. The vision included free rides from UBER and donations of food from area restaurants.

“We want this day to be, like, these women are just treated to a VIP red carpet experience,” she says.

Grace and Smith are planning to host this event sometime next year, but in the meantime, cancer warriors and their caregivers can sign up for free treatments here; salons can also go to the same page to offer their services; and sponsors can volunteer to pay for treatments for patients.

Although Grace never forgot that guest at Mitchell’s, the idea for the initiative came after a podcast she did for Crossroads Church about learning to deal with fear and anxiety. A group of women in Dayton listened and reached out to Grace, asking if she could offer spa services for a friend with stage 4 cancer and her husband.

From there, Grace decided to open her doors to anyone in the midst of treatment. Initially, she planned to offer spa services for one patient and their caregiver a month, but nine people submitted requests for the first session, and so she and Smith took all nine.

“We’re not going to cap God’s love,” she says.

They realized that this was the chance to reach out to other spas to see if they would participate. Many immediately signed on, including Mitchell’s and Woodhouse Day Spa in Northern Kentucky. Currently, 10 spas are participating and they hope to have 15 by the end of the year.

Hairstylists have reached out to help with wigs and an acupuncturist offered services as well. Sotto and Nada donated gift cards for the guests and Compass Community Church raised $12,000 to provide 10 yearlong memberships for both warriors and their caregivers.

The caregiver aspect is important to Grace and Smith, which is why they include as many in the treatments as possible. If a cancer patient comes in with, say, both a mom and a sibling who have helped her through her journey, everyone receives spa services.

“We believe once a cancer diagnosis is given to a family, everyone in the family needs to stay as healthy as possible,” says Grace.

It’s something she’s all too familiar with. This past June, her dad was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. The weight of his diagnosis and subsequent care showed her immediately how quickly family and friends can get sick as well.

“You see [stress] progress, and the weight of feeling helpless, I think, for everybody involved is enormous,” says Smith.

Both Grace and Smith agree that no one should feel guilty about taking care of themselves.

They also have plans to expand their knowledge in treating clients with illnesses. Smith has taken a massage class specifically about people going through chemo, and both will become certified in oncology esthetics.

During next year’s citywide event, they will be fundraising so that each of their current participating spas can train one cancer certified oncology specialist per location. Down the line, Grace envisions opening a cancer wellness center in the city.

For now, Grace and Smith are excited about receiving their 501(c)(3) for the initiative and are working on building relationships with area spas, forming teams, and getting restaurants involved. And, of course, taking care of their warriors.

“When the mind, body, and soul is at rest, that’s when the body truly heals,” says Grace, “and we like to believe we provide that.”

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Read more articles by Jessica Esemplare.

Jessica Esemplare is the managing editor of Soapbox Cincinnati and a graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. Shortly after completing her degree in magazine journalism, she began covering local and regional topics at The Cincinnati Herald and, later, as an editor at Ohio Magazine. Her writing has also been featured in U.S. News and World Report.