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Looking Better Helps Cancer Patients Feel Better

  • Sarah Zaman

Many cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy not only have to fight the disease but also the side effects of the treatment itself. Research shows that hair loss and skin damage can often negatively affect a cancer survivor’s self-esteem and their resolve to fight the disease. One program is changing that, not with drugs and needles, but with a little bit of makeup.

When Cathy Davelli started chemotherapy for breast cancer, she knew her body would change. What she did not expect was the emotional toll this would take on her.

“I lost a piece of who I was. I would walk by the mirror and did not recognize myself,” she said.

Millions of women who undergo chemotherapy around the world face the harsh reality of hair and weight loss and skin damage. But many are turning to "Look Good, Feel Better;" a program that teaches women simple beauty techniques so they can once again not only look better physically but also feel stronger emotionally.

Created by the Personal Care Products Council and supported by the American Cancer Society, the "Look Good, Feel Better" program has been running free beauty classes across the United States since 1989. Makeup artists and hair stylists teach cancer survivors how to put on makeup and cover their bald heads in flattering ways.

Participants receive free makeup kits full of brand-name cosmetics.

In fact, says Louanne Roark, who oversees the program, the beauty industry was really the impetus behind it.

“And they provide all of the funding for the program, both here in the U.S. and in the other 24 countries," she said. "Kits that are used in the workshops, all those products are all donated. Here in the U.S., that's somewhere between about $7 [million] and $10 million worth of products that's donated every year.”

The program's research indicates that after seeing the visible side effects of cancer treatment, such as hair and weight loss, many women are dissatisfied with their appearance. After taking the beauty class, most women begin to like what they see in the mirror. But some say that's not the only reason they come to the classes.

"It's been wonderful. Not only do you meet people, women, who are going through the same thing that you are going through and develop camaraderie but the tips that you learn are invaluable," said cancer survivor Cathy Davelli. "They give you back some of what you've lost.

And sometimes the workshops help not only the students, but also the teachers -- like makeup artist Jodie Hecker.

“I lost my mother to cancer and I lost my aunt to cancer, within nine months of each other," she said. "One of my aunt's friends works here at the Vince Lombardi Cancer Center and told me that if I got involved here with my make up skills, it would be healing process for me. When I was cheering them up, it took all the emphasis off me.”

The program is now running in 25 countries. So far it has helped more than 1.2 million women look good -- and feel better.