By Suzanne Thompson / Special to My Life via The Commercial Appeal
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Sometimes it’s the things people have to force themselves to do that wind up being most beneficial to them.
That was certainly the case with Linda Casey, a woman who has been battling several different forms of cancer since 2001.
Casey attended one of the Look Good, Feel Better sessions the American Cancer Society developed to help women deal with the effects of cancer treatment.
“When I went I had such a headache,” she said.
Because chemotherapy treatments zap people’s energy, Casey said she almost backed out of going to the session.
She was glad she made herself go.
“When I left there I felt so much better,” Casey said.
The two-hour LGFG classes are held in clinics and hospitals throughout the Mid-South.
Ellen Eisen, a licensed clinical social worker certified in oncology, said the sessions are held in medical facilities to reduce the risk of infection and they have other benefits.
“It perks them up. It’s a relaxing, fun time that is very useful,” said Eisen, who is coordinator of patient and family services at the Jones Clinic.
Eisen has been referring patients to the LGFG program for 10 years, and that’s where Casey found out about it.
She attended her LGFB class at the Jones Clinic in the evening, though most classes are held during the day.
Patti Willard, a cosmetologist who has been teaching the sessions for 22 years, said she remembered one instance when a woman came into a session and it was obvious she had made herself go.
“You could just tell she dragged herself in there,” Willard said.
The woman felt so bad about herself that she came in with thinning hair and without her dentures, but when the session was over, her attitude had completely changed.
“When we finished, she gave a big smile and said, ‘I didn’t know I could look so good, I’m going to start wearing my teeth again.’”
Cancer treatment has a number of side effects about which most people who have never experienced it are unaware.
People most often recognize hair loss, but that is just one of the devastating physical changes cancer patients endure.
Willard said not all the women arrive wearing wigs, become some haven’t lost their hair completely.
Those who do wear wigs are asked to remove them at the beginning of the session.
“We ask them to be brave and take off their wigs,” she said.
This step often spurs a bonding between the women and lets them know other women are battling the same feelings of self-consciousness.
Now fighting lung cancer, the third type she has had, Casey said she has not lost her hair yet.
During past chemo treatments when she did lose her hair she experienced another unexpected loss.
“I didn’t cry when I lost my hair, but when I lost my eyebrows and eyelashes, I cried,” Casey said.
That’s another issue that is covered during the LGFB sessions.
“Eyebrows and lips give your face expression,” Willard said.
She demonstrates techniques to teach women how to apply eyeliner to create a more natural appearance.
Willard, who is also certified to train others to head up the classes, said one of the most common side effects is dry skin.
To combat that, Willard advises the women to lower their bath water temperatures, and when they finish bathing or showering, not to dry off completely, because moisturizers are more effective when applied to damp skin.
Nail care and scarf making are some of the other things covered during the 12-point classes, Willard said.
“Nails can develop dark or white spots, or sometime split,” she said.
Even trimming cuticles can provide risks, so women are coached on how to do that in the LGFB sessions because their immune systems are compromised and it’s important that they don’t cut themselves, Willard explained.
Women who attend the sessions are each given a beauty kit filled with cosmetics.
Willard said most every brand makes donations, so the kits contain high-end products that the women might not have access to otherwise.
“A lot of women do not have extra money because they are not able to work,” Willard said.
The kits are valued between $100 and $200.
While they can attend as many of the free classes as they want to, women who attend more than one class are asked to bring their kits back, because ACS can only provide one kit per person.
“I’m looking forward to this next one,” Casey said.
The sessions are open to patients currently receiving cancer treatment, or who have received treatment within the past year.
The part of the sessions Willard most enjoys teaching occurs at the end of the lesson, when women learn how to make scarves.
“The neatest part is how to take a T-shirt and make one out of that, she said. “It looks like a beautiful turban. They love it.”
“It looked like something you would buy at a store.
Willard said beauty treatment for cancer patients, though customized, has a similar effect on everyone.
“We all feel better when we look good,” she said.
For more information about the American Cancer Society’s Look Good, Feel Better program, go to lookgoodfeelbetter.org, or call (800) 395-LOOK.