Developed through a joint effort of the American Cancer Society, the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association, and the National Cosmetology Association, the "Look Good, Feel Better" program is open to female cancer patients undergoing radiation or chemotherapy treatment.
Teams of volunteer cosmetologists, some of whom are cancer survivors, teach make-up tips, offer advice on proper skin care, wigs and other options.
Chemotherapy and radiation treatments cause hair loss, even to eyebrows and lashes, as well as changes in skin and nails. The program offers women a supportive base to learn to cope with these disturbing changes.
A survey commissioned by the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association found that although oncologists and female cancer patients recognize the importance of treating non-medical problems that accompany cancer treatment, not enough women take advantage of programs when they are available.
"Women undergoing cancer treatment can experience a loss of self-esteem and confidence along with common feelings of depression and anxiety associated with illness," said Dr. Julia Rowland, director of the psycho-oncology program at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, DC. "Dealing with these non-medical aspects of cancer is a critical part of a woman's recovery."
A 48-foot trailer will spend most of 1999 on a 22-city tour to bring the Look Good, Feel Better program to some of the top cancer hospitals in the country. The tour wraps up in Washington in October.
At each stop, women will get instruction, tips, suggestions and advice on dealing with hair loss and complexion and nail changes. There is even information on how to purchase wigs.
Each year, 30,000 patients participate in "Look Good, Feel Better" programs. Still, Carolyn Deaver, a graduate of the program who is also vice president of the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association Foundation, says many more women could benefit. One problem, she says, is that "the decisions you have to make with cancer are so immediate that many women don't think that concentrating on appearance is of any immediate concern."
Deaver was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1989, just as she was about to start a new job. She was to undergo a mastectomy and chemotherapy, and wa advised to go to a Look Good, Feel Better session while under treatment.
"After radiation and/or chemotherapy women look in the mirror and don't recognize themselves," she says. "When this happens to you, you're not prepared for it. It's a big emotional issue. You don't look like yourself and you don't feel like yourself. Your sense of confidence and self esteem is low. You also feel that no one understands what you're going through."
Through a program like this, Deaver says, women undergoing cancer treatment can continue to appear in public without the fear that people will stare at them or treat them differently.
"What's good about this program is when you go through it there are women sitting right next to you who are all going through the same thing, so you all can relate," she says. "Some of the volunteers at one time were on the other side of the table. Now, as cancer survivors, they are offering beauty tips and secrets."
Marianne Devine, a 39-year-old wife and mother of two, works in private banking, where appearance is important. She was diagnosed with breast cancer 8 months ago and underwent 4 months of chemotherapy that began in September of 1998.
"I knew my hair would fall out 20 days after I began chemo," she says. "It was straight and shoulder length at the time, so I decided to shave it very close like a crew cut. That way it wouldn't be too scary for my children, husband, family and friends. When the hair did come out, it came out very quickly, so there was a time there when I was completely bald."
Marianne went to a session at the "Look Good, Feel Better" program, and was pleased with the results. She says she realized how important it was, not just for her but for the people around her, to see that she looked and felt good about herself.
"This program is a nice thing that you do for you, she says. "You're going through cancer treatment, yet you and all the women in the program with you are in a good mood. It's Â…a bit of a comfort for my family as well, because they would really love to see you when you look good and feel good about yourself."
For more information, Look Good, Feel Better site. Below is the schedule for the tour.
March 9-10 Miami: Mount Sinai Hospital
March 16-17 Tampa: Moffit Cancer Center
March 23-24 Atlanta: Northside Hospital
March 31, April 1 Houston: Ben Taub Hospital
April 6, 7, 8 Dallas/Ft. Worth: Arlington Memorial Hospital
April 14, 15 Phoenix: Good Samaritan Hospital
April 27, 28, 29 Los Angeles: USC Norris Cancer Center
May 11, 12 San Diego: TBD
May 19, 20 San Francisco/Berkeley: Alta Bates Hospital
May 25, 26 Sacramento: UC Davis Hospital
June 8, 9 Seattle: Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center
June 22, 23 Denver: Rocky Mountain Cancer Center
June 29, 30 Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Hospital
July 13, 14 Chicago: University of Chicago Hospitals
July 20, 21 Detroit: Providence Hospital
July 27, 28 Cleveland: Cleveland Clinic
Aug. 3, 4 Philadelphia: Fox Chase Cancer Center
Sept. 13, 14, 15 New York: Memorial Sloan-Kettering
Sept. 21, 22 Boston: Dana Farber Cancer Institute
Sept. 28, 29 Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Passavant
Week of Oct. 4 Washington, DC: Georgetown University Medical Center
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