Many thousands of men and women are diagnosed each year with some form of cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.
For them, treatment options will probably include chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery and, consequently, side effects like nausea, pain and fatigue.
Those side effects can not only include hair loss, but also dry skin, brittle nails and weight gain.
And for women in particular, these side effects can take over one’s daily life.
Aimed to improve confidence, self-esteem and wellbeing of women undergoing cancer treatment, the “Look Good Feel Better” program was developed in 1989 by the Personal Care Products Council, a charitable organization supported by the cosmetic industry, in cooperation with the American Cancer Society (ACS) and the Professional Beauty Association (or PBA), a national organization that represents hairstylists, wig experts, estheticians, makeup artists, and other professionals in the cosmetic industry.
The program offers cancer patients a free workshop that teaches beauty and styling techniques. Participants can learn everything from wig-styling to beautifying with powder.
Becky Anderson, the Look Good Feel Better program facilitator in Hernando County, explained, “It’s a one-time program offered to any woman going through treatment for any type of cancer. They can be as young as 14 years old or up to 92 years old,” she said. “it’s available for everyone, even men.”
Anderson, along with two other program volunteers - Aestheticians Amy Baldwin of Brooksville and Annette Lalla of Spring Hill, teach specific techniques to help women make the most of their appearance whilst undergoing cancer therapy.
All cosmetology volunteers who are part of the program are fully certified.
Amy Baldwin was only 13 years old when she watched her grandmother undergo aggressive cancer treatment.
“I had no idea what was going on or what exactly she was going through at the time,” said Baldwin. “I just knew it was very serious,” she said.
Thankfully, Baldwin’s grandmother is a cancer survivor and still enjoying a healthy, happy life today but it made a huge impression on the young Baldwin.
“So when I started aesthetician school and a tutor told us about the Look Good Feel Better program for women going through cancer treatment, I signed up immediately to volunteer my skills on the program,” she said.
Lalla explained she offers her time and expertise because she simply wants to make them feel happy about themselves.
“Many of the participants don’t have a support system,” she said. “I want to help these women feel courageous.”
The trio have been working together on the program for many years, and Anderson has been involved in one form or another for more than 20 years.
“Look Good Feel Better” is not just about keeping up their appearance,” said Anderson. It also helps patients improve and maintain their self-esteem and confidence,” she said.
The two-hour group workshop, led by the three volunteer beauty experts, teaches makeup application techniques and skin and nail care guidance. Anderson demonstrates how to manage hair loss using wigs, turbans, scarves and accessories.
“Being able to sit in a relaxed, nonmedical setting with others going through the same situation allows women to talk freely about their personal experiences, share their appearance concerns and sometimes each other’s favorite beauty tips,” said Anderson.
Participants at this particular workshop included Elke Mullen, Marge Carter and Shirley Chapman. All three are currently undergoing cancer treatments but for privacy reasons preferred not to give further details.
Each patient attending the program received a free magenta colored bag with the words, “Look Good Feel Better” inscribed in white across the front. Inside was a complete set of makeup items - (foundation, powder, eye shadows, eye liner, moisturizers, mascara, eye liner, lipstick and concealer) as well as makeup brushes and sponge applicators valued at over $200.
The makeup donations come from well-established cosmetic companies like Clinique, Bobbi Brown, Dior, Lancome, Mary Kay, Estee Lauder, Revlon, IT Cosmetics and Yves St. Laurent to name a few.
The package also includes a video and printed materials giving step-by-step instruction on makeup tips from beauty professionals.
Baldwin used the 12-step instruction guide to lead participants through a recommended daily makeup procedure that begins with thoroughly cleansing the skin. Then came moisturizing, how to apply concealer and foundation, followed by eye makeup, mascara and lip color.
It took about an hour to go through the individual makeup steps and the instructors provided application tips to each participant personally.
Following the makeup instruction, Becky Anderson, a wig expert, spoke about hair loss which is probably the most noticeable and traumatic effect that cancer treatment may cause.
“Most people will start to lose their hair within a week of chemotherapy,” Anderson said. Some people also lose their eyebrows, eyelashes and body hair.
After chemotherapy ends, it usually takes about a month for hair to begin regrowth, Anderson explained.
“Hair typically grows a half inch per month so many people wear their wigs until the hair is long enough to be styled,” she said.
Anderson displayed several types of wigs and explained options on choosing the correct wig for various face shapes. She then demonstrated having the patients try on the wigs, how to put it on correctly so that it’s comfortable to wear. Washing, styling and drying wigs correctly, whether they be synthetic, or made from human hair, is also important.
Participants were then shown how to use an old T-shirt to make an elegant turban and tips on embellishing head wear with scarves and brooches.
For many cancer patients – male or female – hair loss is their biggest fear and, for some, it can be the most upsetting experience of the whole cancer treatment journey.
Free wigs are available for cancer patients at various American Cancer Society locations in Hernando County.
“But, said Anderson, “be sure to wash your wig before wearing it.”
Elke Mullen, whose hair had grown back by about a half an inch said the whole experience was very friendly and she enjoyed it tremendously.
Shirley Chapman said the program was very informative.
“I’m very glad I came,” she said. “I feel very good about my appearance.”
Anderson, Baldwin and Lalla agreed that being a volunteer on this program is our favorite thing to do.
“I’ve been doing it for 15 years, it’s a great feeling when they go from no eyebrows to looking great at the end of the workshop,” said Baldwin.
“We’ve been working together for 15 years now,” said Anderson. “We have a good time, make our participants relax and enjoy good camaraderie,” she said.
AT A GLANCE
Look Good, Feel Better workshops are planned for Nov. 16 and Dec. 21. To reserve a place on the program, call 1-800.277.2345.
The Look Good Feel Better program at-home materials are available for patients who can’t attend the program.
The at-home materials are available for free by calling 1-800-395-LOOK (5665).
Sue Quigley can be reached at 727.808.9587.