VINTON–The American Cancer Society (ACS) through its many fundraisers such as the Vinton Relay for Life raises money not just for cancer research, but for many national programs, locally based, like “Look Good Feel Better.”
The ACS describes Look Good Feel Better as a “free, non-medical, brand neutral program, dedicated to improving the quality of life and self-esteem of people undergoing cancer treatments.”
The program involves one-time beauty sessions that help victims of all types of cancer deal with the appearance-related side effects of treatment.
“Look Good Feel Better” is jointly sponsored by the Personal Care Products Council Foundation, the ACS, and the Professional Beauty Association. The program had its beginnings in 1989 with a male physician who noticed that his female cancer patients seemed to feel better when they “added some rouge,” and subsequently teamed up with a friend in the make-up field.
Classes have been meeting at Lewis Gale Medical Center since 1990.
That 26-year relationship was celebrated at Lewis Gale on March 14 with the presentation of an award to Chief Operating Officer Mike Abbott and Assistant Chief Nursing Officer Amy Woods during a “Look Good” class with a celebratory cake, and some words of thanks and support. The presentations were made by Mark Hurley, the Senior Marketing Manager for the ACS, and volunteer Pat Bruce, adviser for the “Look Good” program.
There was also a rose for each participant courtesy of Mark Frye of Vinton’s Creative Occasions. When Frye provided flowers for a 20th anniversary celebration, he asked how he could get involved and volunteered to provide a rose for each participant in all the ‘Look Good” classes to follow.
Once the formalities were taken care of Bruce, seven ladies who are undergoing cancer treatments, and several other ACS volunteers got down to the business of learning new make-up and hair-styling techniques.
This particular class was at the opposite end of the spectrum from glum and downtrodden—in fact the session resembled an exuberant Paint Nite or Ladies Night Out, without the beverages.
Most had been diagnosed just recently and are in the midst of, or just completing, different cancer treatments. Most were diagnosed with breast cancer. Some have histories of cancer in their families; some do not.
They relished the opportunity to meet others who are going through similar experiences and bonded almost instantaneously once the session was underway. Often great friendships and support groups are the result of the program.
The “Look Good” program presents participates with free make-up kits (with about $250 worth of products available in four different shades), containing cleansers, moisturizers, concealers, foundation, powder, blush, eyebrow pencils, eye shadow, eyeliner, mascara, lipliner, and lipstick from various companies who have donated their products.
Patients undergoing cancer treatments are generally advised to toss out their old make-up to avoid the potential for germs.
Katie Varney volunteered to act as the “model” for the session. The class started out with sanitizing and cleansing and moved on to applying the products, emphasizing using disposable applicators and being ever cognizant of contaminating the products.
Bruce and volunteers Katrina Milton and Steve Becker (both cancer survivors and hairdressers), worked with the ladies on the techniques of applying their new make-up, while they and the class members kept up a running dialogue on challenges they have faced as well as tips and encouragement.
Bruce emphasized the dangers of manicures and pedicures at nail salons. There was discussion from the group about the “paranoia” of public places and avoiding handshakes, salad bars, grocery cart handles, and even church “where everyone wants to hug you” during certain weeks of therapy.
There was also talk of “letting other people do things to support you during treatments because it helps them feel better and to do otherwise would rob them of a blessing.”
“We continue to listen with our hearts and to march onward to share our lives with many of these ladies once they have come to a session,” said Bruce.
After the make-up session, the class moved on to hair wear. The ACS will provide one free wig to cancer patients.
Volunteer Danielle Alexander of Troutville, went through the “Look Good” program after being diagnosed with breast cancer last May and going through multiple rounds of chemotherapy and then surgeries.
She contacted the ACS, signed up for the program, and “they made me feel beautiful.” She and some of the ladies in the current class decided against wigs and other hair accoutrements—“it just wasn’t me.”
She said that she used the make-up to brighten her features, but felt comfortable with the loss of her hair, and wanted to lessen the fear of cancer that those she came in contact with might feel.
“The ACS is a village on its own,” said Alexander. “This is really a sisterhood. There is something very elemental about having something so serious in common with someone else. It at times involves fear, anxiety, and even depression, but there is something uplifting about surrounding yourself with positive people who have been through similar circumstances.”
Alexander also advised cancer patients to be their own advocates, get good advice (not from the Internet), and ask questions.
“Cancer did not change who I am,” said Alexander. “This is one small chapter in our lives.”
Carolyn Williams, co-chair of the Vinton Relay for Life and long-term cancer survivor, shared similar feelings from her treatments.
“I was aware of how bad I felt but also I was aware that I did not want to look sick,” said Williams. “Every morning I got up, showered, dressed and put on my ‘face’. By making myself take these small steps, I truly believe that because I looked better, I also felt better.”
She and her husband Don got a call to help bring Relay for Life to Vinton while she was still on chemo. Her first walk was a mere 35 days after she finished treatments.
“I think the energy and passion that we put into that first relay was a large part of my recovery,” added Williams. “The pictures of that first relay show our faces, Don and mine, filled with pride and so much joy. Yes, I was still sick but happy.”
Vinton Councilwoman Janet Scheid is also a breast cancer survivor. She serves as Board President of the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
“As a survivor, I remember feeling like there was something wrong with me and that, due to the nature of this disease, that I was no longer attractive as a woman,” said Scheid. “I had radiation and even though I was young (41 years old) the treatments wore me out. I had a full-time job to keep up with, a 5 year old son and a husband to take care of. (I’m not sure how women do it without a supportive husband.) So, any hints and tips and pampering that these survivors can get is priceless.”
“Look Good Feel Better” programs are scheduled on a monthly basis at Lewis-Gale Medical Center, the ACS office at Colonnade Park off of Route 419 in Roanoke, and at New Horizons Healthcare on Melrose Avenue.
This year’s Vinton Relay for Life is scheduled for Friday, May 6 at William Byrd High School.
More information is available at www.lookgoodfeelbetter.org or by calling the ACS at 540-774-2717.