One of my very first outings after beginning chemotherapy was attending a Look Good…Feel Better class. That stifling hot August day this past summer was also the first time I stepped out in public wearing my newly purchased wig. Leaving the safety of my house that day I felt alone, self-conscious, vulnerable and totally skeptical. “Look Good… Feel Better,” I said to myself, “are you kidding me? Impossible.” I wasn’t even sure why I had signed up.
Before attending my scheduled class that day, I also made my first trip to the mall. I walked around mindlessly shopping feeling as if I was dressed up in a disguise. I wondered if anyone would recognize me should I run into someone I knew. How could they? I didn’t even recognize myself when I walked past a store’s mirror. The only reason I had convinced myself go in the first place was because I needed something to wear to my niece’s upcoming wedding.
After finishing up my shopping that afternoon as quickly as possible, I headed over to one of the local hospitals to attend my class. I walked into the designated “cancer room” trying to appear confident, signed in, picked out as inconspicuous a spot as I could find and sat down feeling like I shouldn’t be there. I immediately scanned the room observing the other women already seated and noticed cancer embraces women of all colors, ages, shapes and backgrounds. Cancer is the great nondiscriminator.
Some women were older, some much younger and others appeared to be similar to my age, but all of us had cancer of various types and stages and all of us were undergoing treatment of some kind or another. Some women wore hats or scarves, others wore wigs and some had yet to lose their hair. Four cosmetologists were leading the class, two of them cancer survivors themselves. Again, cancer embraces all women.
“You might want to remove your wig if you’re wearing one,” were the first words spoken by one of the leaders, a perky blond breast cancer survivor, as class began to get under way.
Panic immediately set in. “No way am I going to remove my wig in front of all these people,” I said to myself feeling defiant and ready to walk out the door if pushed to do so. Clearly, I was lacking in the confidence department.
However, I needn’t have worried because as it turned out luckily, or not so luckily, my skin is very sensitive and I was already breaking out from the cleanser we were instructed to use to remove any makeup we came to class wearing.
“Oh my, you better just observe and wait until you get home to try the products,” the blond cosmetologist said sympathetically after taking another look at my face. I was rescued by my red blotchy skin.
The Look Good…Feel Better program was started in 1989. It is a collaboration of The Personal Care Products Council Foundation, The American Cancer Society and the Professional Beauty Association/National Cosmetology Association. Its mission is “to improve the self-esteem and quality of life of people undergoing treatment for cancer.” Its founders and supporters believe cancer takes much, but it shouldn’t get to take self-confidence too.
How can you not love that concept?
A Look Good…Feel Better class teaches beauty techniques and tricks through “hands-on” demonstration and instruction. Over 700,000 women have taken the class in 3,000 locations across the country. The Personal Care Products Council Foundation provides the financial backing and donates all makeup. The PBA/NCA promotes, trains and recruits volunteers and the ACS acts as the primary resource for getting the word out to cancer patients about classes.
That August afternoon we watched a video featuring real cancer patients getting makeovers. Then the volunteers patiently took us step by step through the process of properly applying makeup and showed us things like how to enhance thinning eye lashes and non-existent brows. They cheerfully walked around giving individual attention and answering questions. Each woman received a pink bag full of generously donated makeup items, full-sized items, not sample sizes. There was a lot of experimenting, sharing and laughter in that room; things not experienced as often when you have cancer.
For those two hours or so, I was just a woman among other women trying to adapt to cancer. In that room we were all the same. We were all accepted. We were all beautiful.
Sitting there going through my bag felt a little like Christmas. I mean, who doesn’t love free stuff? And this was good free stuff. My bag contained numerous cleansers, moisturizers and lotions, mascara, eye shadow, lipstick, gloss, blush, foundation, powder, eye liner and brow pencils. There were even multiples of some of these products.
Walking out of class into the blistering hot sun that recent summer day, I clutched my bag full of donated beauty products and realized I did look good, or at least better. I did feel better and more confident. I walked through the parking lot on the way back to my car no longer the skeptic, but grateful for programs like Look Good…Feel Better. Thank you.
You can find more information about Look Good…Feel Better classes in your area at www.lookgoodfeelbetter.org. Or call your local American Cancer Society. I highly recommend it.
Have you participated in a Look Good…Feel Better class, or do you know someone who has? Or what’s a class (any kind) that you really benefited from?