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Look good, feel better

March 1, 2011

Treatments for cancer don't always involve painful injections or reconstructive surgery.

If you ask women involved in the American Cancer Society's Look Good, Feel Better program, they'll tell you that, sometimes, all it takes for a cancer patient to feel better is a swipe of lipstick and some sparkly earrings.

The American Cancer Society is training area estheticians and certified cosmetologists how to apply makeup and other beauty products to female cancer patients, in turn giving those patients back the confidence and courage they might have lost during treatment. Those facilitators, in turn, teach the cancer patients how to apply the makeup themselves, so they can continue to look good and feel better throughout their fight with cancer.

A group of certified cosmetologists arrived at Catawba Valley Medical Center's Health First Center in Valley Hills Mall on Monday for training to become a facilitator in the Look Good, Feel Better program.

The volunteers learn how to incorporate tricks taught in beauty school with proper health care protocol to combine feel-good beauty treatments with immune-system protecting tips.

"I've just always known that it was a worthwhile program," said Debbie Yandow, of Hickory, who went through volunteer training Monday. "And I've always wanted to do it. So I decided to do it now — no excuses."

Look Good, Feel Better is a free program offered nationwide in comprehensive cancer centers, hospitals and other community settings.

The volunteers trained Wednesday are eligible to participate in their first Look Good, Feel Better session March 14 at the Catawba County Wig Bank in Hickory.

ACS volunteer trainer Tina Malphrus taught the volunteers how to handle cancer-specific body complaints, such as dry skin and eyebrow loss. She also taught the volunteers how to handle the complex emotional issues that often come with hair loss, weight gain or reconstructive surgery.

ACS senior community manager Barbara Rush was also on hand to train volunteers about the women they will encounter during Look Good, Feel Better.

"It's a little different working with cancer patients and the emotions that come with it," Rush said. "But in two hours time, you've made a huge difference in someone's life."

The program, started in 1989, is a collaboration among ACS, the Personal Care Products Council Foundation and the Professional Beauty Association. During the two-hour session, volunteers are partnered with a cancer patient. Patients receive a bag of donated cosmetics, and the trained cosmetologist teaches the patient how to apply those cosmetics in a way that makes them feel beautiful.

Many people don't realize, however, that women undergoing cancer treatment must be diligent about sanitation when applying makeup, because of their compromised immune systems. That means using disposable applicators for eye shadow, mascara and foundation.

"I've had people in my family with cancer, and I've always wanted a way to give back," said Theresa Hahn, a volunteer who attended Monday's Look Good, Feel Better training.

The volunteers also learned about how to teach patients about wig care, as well as creating head wraps and decorative scarfs.

The makeup, combined with hair and scarf styling, is transformative, Malphrus said.

"They're working what they've got," she said. "They're confident, and you know (cancer) isn't getting the best of them."

For more information about Look Good, Feel Better, call 1-800-395-LOOK or visit www.lookgoodfeelbetter.org.

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