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The Full Treatment

To help cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy maintain hope and self-image, a nationwide program helps Orange County women (and men) put their best face forward--with tips on wigs, makeup and more.

May 08, 1996|DEBRA CANO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The hair loss is the most visible, undeniable change: It is what the cancer patient sees in the mirror each day and what the world notices.

For many, within weeks of starting chemotherapy, hair begins falling out in handfuls. The chemical infusions given to kill cancerous cells also poison hair follicle cells. There are other changes too: Skin can become dry, flaky and even change color.

Though the changes in appearance are temporary, for cancer patients--especially women--they can compound the illness' emotional devastation.

"What we women go through is so horrible," said Rosalie McKenzie of Fullerton, who has lost her hair to cancer treatments and wears a short auburn wig.

Candy Friesner, wearing a pink turban to cover her head, also knows what it is like to lose your hair, including eyebrows and lashes, because of the harsh treatments.

"It's pretty depressing," agrees Friesner, 47, of Anaheim, who has breast cancer. "But when you start putting on makeup and the wig, you're ready to do something."

McKenzie and Friesner were among about a dozen women with cancer who participated recently in a class to help them deal a little better with the way they look during treatment.

"Look Good . . . Feel Better" is a nationwide program sponsored by the American Cancer Society with the help of local cosmetologists and skin-care specialists who volunteer their services. The program is offered on an ongoing basis at a number of Orange County hospitals and medical offices at no charge to cancer patients. Though the program predominately serves women, it is also open to men.

The program was started in 1989 by the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Assn. Foundation, a charitable group supported by the cosmetics industry. It is designed to help cancer patients feel good about their self-image and offers them tips to enhance their appearance--things such as wearing lip color, choosing the right wig for a natural look or wrapping a scarf around the head for a fashionable touch.

"People going through cancer have a tough time dealing with it," said Joanne O'Heany, coordinator of the American Cancer Society's information center at Fountain Valley Regional Hospital and Medical Center. "The feeling is if they look good, then they'll feel better about themselves."

Dr. Glen Justice, an oncologist and medical director at the Orange County Regional Cancer Center at the Fountain Valley hospital, said such a program is critical in raising esteem and positive feelings about body image.

"It's a tremendous blow to their self-perception and image, even their sexuality," Justice said of women undergoing cancer treatment, especially if a woman has had a breast removed. "It's all very scary; a well-empowered life is all of sudden out of control, and they're terribly vulnerable."

O'Heany said women often continue working while undergoing cancer treatment and want to look their best on the outside.

"They want to feel that they look normal, and not a cancer patient," she said.

During the session attended by Friesner and McKenzie at a cancer center classroom at the Fountain Valley hospital, some women wore wigs, others hats and turbans. Some haven't yet gone through the shocking experience of their hair falling out; others are waiting for it to grow back--a process that varies by individual.

Each sat at a table with a small stand-up mirror in front of them. Each received an array of name-brand cosmetics--from face cleaner to foundation--donated by cosmetics companies.

Some of the women said they don't normally wear makeup and didn't know how to properly apply it.

That is where Costa Mesa cosmetologist Linda Ramos stepped in. She gave the women a 12-step lesson on how to correctly smooth on moisturizer, to apply concealer to hide dark circles under the eyes, line lips to make them look fuller and re-create arched eyebrows.

"Doctors are going to help you on the inside. We're going to be helping you on the outside so when you walk by that mirror, you're going to look beautiful," said Ramos, who with several other volunteer cosmetologists, assisted the women in applying makeup.

With a brown pencil in hand, Annette Gould, 49, of Santa Ana, who has breast cancer, learned how to draw new eyebrows.

"I'm kind of a plain Jane girl" who rarely uses makeup, Gould said.

Wearing a short platinum-blond wig, Gould for the first time lined her lips with a pencil and colored them red. "It makes me feel good about myself," she said of the change in her appearance.

Because cancer treatments usually dry the skin, Ramos said, only a mild cleanser should be used. Moisturizer for dry skin is also a must, and wearing sunscreen is recommended when outdoors, she added.

"What's really important is your skin does change," Ramos said. "Especially during chemotherapy, it will become very dry and flaky."

Ramos encourages women to experiment with shades of lipstick and eye shadow they don't normally use, because skin color often changes during treatment.

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