Saunders: Hospital program helps cancer patients keep up appearances

STAFF COLUMNISTMarch 25, 2012 

We all have it, but Renee Wardlaw is one of the few brave enough to admit to it – a touch of vanity.

“My appearance was very important,” she told me recently. “My hair was everything to me.”

Battling cancer can make you brave in a lot of ways. Wardlaw’s treatments for breast cancer – she is now a four-year survivor – made her hair thin or fall out, but she still cared about the way she looked.

What to do, what to do?

Fortunately for Wardlaw, she discovered a program at Durham Regional Hospital – sponsored by the American Cancer Society – that helps women undergoing cancer treatments keep up appearances as they go through the fight of their lives.

It’s called “Look Good, Feel Better,” and it’s held at Durham Regional on the first Monday of each month.

A team of cosmetologists and beauty professionals beautify and pamper the women as a form of therapy, Anna Jones, communications manager for the American Cancer Society, told me. “The hair, skin and body go through lots of changes” from cancer and cancer treatments, Jones said. “We train beauty professionals who volunteer to work with the women and talk to them about everything from cleansing, moisturizing and sun care.”

They also teach women about types of wigs and how to hook up eyebrows that may have been lost to chemotherapy treatment.

“I went through it during my treatment,” Wardlaw said. “I was never a big makeup person, but they taught me about wigs and scarves and hats. It was a big help during that horrible period. I found that just looking better makes you feel better. It was a wonderful experience.”

It must’ve been, because Wardlaw is now the coordinator of the program.

Almost as important to the women’s well-being as the beauty supplies and tips, Jones said, is the sense of camaraderie they feel. “For a brief time, they’re escaping and enjoying the company of other women going through the same thing.”

“Look Good, Feel Better” is, Jones said, “an amazing program. I’m so proud of it. Renee is an incredible coordinator. But we offer many other support programs.” She cited specifically the “Road to Recovery” program, which provides transportation to and from cancer treatment. “I truly believe that every time a volunteer takes someone to treatment, they save their life, because without transportation, they sometimes just don’t go.”

For information on other support programs or on the “Look Good, Feel Better” program closest to you, Jones suggests you call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 or visit www.lookgoodfeelbetter.org and put in your ZIP code.

Wardlaw said the beauty treatments “make women feel closer to what they were before” they were diagnosed. “They feel depressed, like it’s a death sentence” immediately after being diagnosed, “but you can be that same person you were. They feel better and their husbands notice.”

Speaking of men, there’s a beauty program for male cancer survivors, but they participate online. “We found that men do better one-on-one over the computer,” Jones said.

Durham Regional, Jones said, “has supported the ‘Feel Good’ program from the beginning. They realize how important it is to the community.”

Mary Kate Llamas, a hospital spokeswoman, said the hospital is sponsoring an exhibit Wednesday from 5-7 p.m. with artwork from Durham artist Beth Palmer, a former patient and cancer survivor. After the exhibit, Palmer will donate the eight pieces to the hospital’s oncology unit.

Saunders: 919-836-2811 or bsaunders@newsobserver.com

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