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A GIFT OF TIME: Volunteers in Orange County

The Full Treatment

Cosmetologist helps cancer patients camouflage side effects of chemotherapy and radiation.

September 15, 1998|KATHRYN BOLD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

She tries to provide the emotional support they need to get through their ordeal. So she volunteers as the unit coordinator of the local cancer society's Reach-to-Recovery program. She's always on call, matching women who have had breast cancer and have been out of treatment for at least a year with newly diagnosed patients. Volunteers visit patients one-on-one in their homes to answer any questions about cancer or treatments.

"The women can ask questions like, 'Where can I get a prosthesis?' or 'Am I going to be OK?' " Pupos said. "Some are terrified, and some just seem to rise to the occasion. Some are really weepy. But then, we all have periods when we weep."

She does it because she has been there herself. When her breast cancer was first diagnosed, in April 1989, the cancer society sent a Reach-to-Recovery volunteer to her home.

"I knew how much it meant to talk to someone who had been through what I was going through," Pupos said.

She was in remission for six years when the breast cancer returned. She had to stop her volunteer work for more than two years to undergo high-dose chemotherapy. Five months ago, after beating cancer once again, she was back helping other cancer patients.

"She's a great inspiration to people going through diagnosis or treatment," said Jane Tackett, a cancer control specialist at the American Cancer Society in Santa Ana. "She's always upbeat and reaching out to others. She devotes endless hours."

It's a mission of sorts. She serves on the society's advisory board for HelpLine, which gives patients information and resources. She also attends the New Image Breast Cancer Support Group at the Hoag center.

"I've seen her in the support groups," said Christine Smith, a 49-year-old breast cancer patient from Newport Beach who attended Pupos' makeup session. "She goes to them all. She knows a whole lot about cancer, and it's very reassuring."

Pupos retired from working as a stylist in hair salons in 1981. She's a single mother of four boys, ages 12 to 39, and has three grandchildren.

Her volunteer work, she said, "is one way I can make sense of having cancer.

"I can use my experience to help someone else."

For information about upcoming Look Good . . . Feel Better programs or to reach the American Cancer Society's HelpLine, call (949) 261-9446.

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