News / Health

Beauty Makeovers Help Cancer Patients Heal

June Soh
Cancer takes a toll not only on the body, but also on the psyche. 

Patients often lose their hair to chemotherapy or experience changes to their skin.

While hair and make-up might seem like superficial concerns while battling a life-threatening disease, experts say maintaining a positive self image can have an impact on a patient's recovery.

That's where the Image Recovery Center at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore comes in.

Cosmetologist Marianne Kelly is applying makeup to Gayle Layfield's face. Layfield, a cancer patient, is bald after losing her hair to chemotherapy.

“That makes all the difference in the world. That looks so, so much better. Thank you so much," Layfield says to Kelly. "“I feel healthier, I feel happier, and that is what improves my spirit.”

“When you look at yourself every day and you see a person that is sick, you constantly live the role of a sick person," says Kelly. "When you look at yourself and you feel that 'I am dealing with a serious disease but I can look normal'...it really affects your self-esteem.”

Kelly learned that from personal experience. She lost her teenage sister to leukemia. Her daughter was diagnosed with the same disease at age four, and soon after that, Kelly herself was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She went through 15 hours of brain surgery.

“I recognized that there was more to healing than medicine," Kelly says. "I felt extremely challenged with the visible changes that took place and having no resources.”

So Kelly envisioned a program that would help patients deal with disfiguring medical treatment. She began as a volunteer, offering free makeovers at a local hospital, and then, about 10 years ago, opened her Image Recovery Center at The Johns Hopkins Hospital.  Since then, she has set up 16 other centers around the country.

The centers offer cosmetics which are specially formulated for cancer patients.

"Surgery, chemotherapy, the radiation part, all that, it is a very prolonged process. And in this fight, if patients look better, feel better, and feel stronger, it helps the immune system to fight cancer better,” says Mehran Habibi, an oncologist at Johns Hopkins. “There are several data that are showing that basically...sense of well-being is very effective in healing."

Gayle Layfield has another reason for stopping by the Image Recovery Center.

“Most customers who are sitting in this chair have had hair loss and you are among friends," she says. "So you do feel more comfortable.” 

Smiles are common at Image Recovery. Marianne Kelly says her goal is to reach as many cancer patients as she can to help restore their smile and self-esteem.

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