Cancer Patients Find Reaffirmation Of Self Image Through Look Good Feel Better Program

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When undergoing cancer treatment, a major side effect is the change to one’s physical appearance. Whether it’s hair loss or changes to the skin, the changes can be drastic.
The program Look Good Feel Better helps manage those changes and it hosts workshops at the University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center.

“For many women who are undergoing treatment, they look in the mirror and they don’t see themselves, they don’t recognize themselves,” said Luanne Roark, the executive director of Look Good Feel Better. “It’s often a point in time when women suddenly look at that, which isn’t what they’re used to seeing, and come to that reckoning: ‘I really am sick. I really do have cancer, and I’ve got to really fight and work hard and do everything I can to get to the other side of this journey and become a survivor.’”

Look Good Feel Better is for women who are actively in treatment for any type of cancer. The workshops are two hours long and led by beauty professionals who receive specialty training from Look Good Feel Better on how to work with cancer patients. The workshops are free to cancer patients.
The format of the workshop is one hour on skin care and cosmetics, 45 minutes on hair and alternatives for hair loss, and then 10 minutes on styling.

“We address those things and how to really overcome them,” Roark said.

Jodie Hawk has volunteered with Look Good Feel Better workshops at UM BWMC since 2012, when her 91-year-old mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. At the time, Hawk was a makeup artist at Neiman Marcus. She had a client who was also a breast cancer patient and recommended Hawk get trained for the program.

“By the time the two hours is over, we end up saying it was like a pajama party without the sleepover,” Hawk said.
The workshops are kept to a maximum of 10 women with one to three beauty professionals.

“We want to keep it small and intimate so that women can really interact with one another, and really have the chance to speak with their instructors and learn and get the information that they need,” Roark said.

During the workshop, each woman receives a gift basket that has the skin care and cosmetics products that they learn to use for a 12-step routine.

“The goal is to really teach them the technique so they can go home and replicate it again and again during the course of their treatment,” Roark said.

Hawk described it as “being like Christmas” for the women when they open their gift baskets.

“The vendors who contribute to them contribute so well. They get top-of-the-line products and brushes, and they feel so special when they open it,” Hawk said. “I really can’t explain the look on their faces and how appreciative they are.”

About 96 percent of the women who go through the workshop say that their confidence and their self-image is greatly improved, and about 97 percent of them say they would refer other women in cancer treatment to the program, Roark said.

“Those are very high numbers of satisfaction with the program,” Roark said.

In addition to learning how to manage the side effects to their appearance, women in the Look Good Feel Better program often create their own support network.

“They will tell us that it sometimes is the only time they’ve come together with other women who are also going through cancer treatment and are really walking in the same shoes that they are,” Roark said.

Hawk recalled an interaction between two participants at a program.

“The [one] lady said, ‘I am alone,’ meaning she was going through all of this nightmare alone,” Hawk said. “The lady across from her reached out and took her hand and said, ‘No you’re not. No you’re not.’ And gave her her phone number and said, ‘Don’t think you’re alone. I won’t let you go through this alone.’”

Look Good Feel Better was established in 1989 and has programs across the country. Between programs, women are able to go online to www.lookgoodfeelbetter.org for instructional videos and other information.

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