Looking and feeling good: Volunteers help cancer patients cope with changes to their appearance

Friday, October 12, 2012
LAURA SIMON ~ lsimon@semissourian.com

When a woman is diagnosed with cancer, her appearance can change drastically. "Look Good ... Feel Better" is a free, national public service program that teaches female cancer patients how to cope with appearance-related side effects of chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

"Our volunteers teach women (who have been diagnosed with cancer) things like how to care for their skin after cancer treatment and how to style wigs, as many do lose their hair during and after treatment," says Marcie Lawson, community manager/health initiative for the American Cancer Society. "We basically just pamper them in every way we can during the sessions."

The Look Good ... Feel Better program is a joint, cooperative effort co-sponsored by the American Cancer Society, Personal Care Products Council Foundation and The Professional Beauty Association/National Cosmetology Association.

Volunteers who conduct the sessions are licensed cosmetologists, and each participant is given a 'goody bag' of free make-up and hair care products to take home.

"We currently offer the two hour classes once a month in Cape where we rotate locations between the two hospitals, and we offer them quarterly in both Sikeston and Poplar Bluff," says Lawson. "We hold them on Mondays when most of the cosmetologists are off work."

Trish Brewington of Fredericktown, Mo., has been a cosmetologist for the past 46 years. She has volunteered with Look Good ... Feel Better for nearly 20 years.

"A friend of mine from church named Henrietta Matthews, who was a 22 year cancer survivor, encouraged me to get involved," says Brewington. "I have cut and/or styled wigs, shaved women's heads and offered tips on skin care and moisturizing."

Joseph West, owner of Joseph West Design Studio in Cape Girardeau, is another volunteer with Look Good ... Feel Better.

"I have been a volunteer for about two years," he says. "In the classes, I go though step-by-step makeup application and teach the women things like how to draw eyebrows back on, as many cancer patients who go through treatment lose their eyebrows. I also help them understand what to expect from their skin as it can change with chemo and radiation treatments."

West also washes, dries and re-styles wigs that have been donated to the program at his salon. Those wigs are then given free of charge to any woman participating in the Look Good ... Feel Better program who needs one.

"I feel like it's a good way for hair stylists or someone in the beauty field to give back," West says of volunteering for the program.

The Look Good ... Feel Better serves 17 counties in Southeast Missouri.

"From September 2011 to August 2012, we provided makeup for 63 women and donated 176 wigs," she says. "We like to keep our sessions small, like around seven to 10 women per session, so that they can receive a lot of individual attention."

Upcoming Look Good ... Feel Better sessions will be from 2 to 4 p.m. Oct. 22 at Saint Francis Medical Center and from 2 to 4 p.m. Nov. 12 at Southeast Cancer Center. Both are open to anyone receiving treatment. Women can register by calling the American Cancer Society at 334-9352.