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'Look Good Feel Better' Program Helps Cancer Patients

Deborah Shaar

It’s estimated that more than 14,000 people in Kansas will receive a new cancer diagnosis this year. A little less than half will be women and the majority of those new cases will be for breast cancer.

There are support programs available to help women manage the appearance-related side effects once treatment begins.

KMUW’s Deborah Shaar reports on the “Look Good, Feel Better” program offered by the American Cancer Society.

A short, upbeat video provides the first introduction to the Look Good, Feel Better Program.

The two-hour beauty workshop is geared toward women who are undergoing chemotherapy, radiation or other forms of cancer treatment.

It’s free to participate, and volunteers lead the session.

Credit Deborah Shaar
Look Good Feel Better cosmetic bag donated to participants.

Volunteer Coordinator Becky Jones sets out beauty supplies and prepares for the workshop in a classroom down a quiet wing of Wesley Medical Center in Wichita.

The most important component, a bright pink bag full of top notch cosmetic products worth up to $250, was all donated, and each participant gets one.

Jones says teaching cancer patients how to best use make-up during treatment really makes a difference.

"I believe in this program," she says. "I think it’s something for these ladies who are going through such a tough time. And this is two hours where they can come and just do something that’s more normal."

Cindy Alcaraz of Clearwater unpacks the boxes of cosmetics.

Credit Deborah Shaar

There’s a moisturizer from Olay, along with some face, lip and eye products from Smashbox, Elizabeth Arden, Mary Kay and other recognizable brands.

Alcaraz is 45-years-old. She's a mother, a former military service member, and now…a cancer patient.

"I had gone in just for my annual mammogram in December, and I got called back," Alcaraz says. "I had to run some more tests. They saw something on an ultrasound, did a biopsy and the next day I found that I have invasive ductal carcinoma, grade three."

Bridget Mack is the licensed cosmetologist teaching Cindy techniques for applying her make-up.

Mack’s been in the beauty business for 40 years. She started volunteering for the Look Good, Feel Better Program about five years ago as a way to give back.

"Usually the reluctancy is...a lot of times, when we are pulling everything out of the bag, the colors aren’t what they are used to seeing or using," Mack says. "This is the time that we can step outside the box. Try something different. Try something new."

The Personal Care Products Council Foundation started this program 25 years ago and partnered with the American Cancer Society to run it nationwide.

Credit Deborah Shaar
Ann Crockett is the American Cancer Society's Program Manager/ Mission Delivery for Kansas.

Ann Crockett with the Cancer Society manages the 29 locations in Kansas where it’s offered.

"Every woman that is going through the cancer journey has their own side effects that they are dealing with," Crockett says. "Some people lose their hair, and some people don’t. Some ladies may lose their eyebrows or eyelashes, some don’t. They may get dark patchy spots, they may not. The cosmetologist tries to work with them individually so they can help teach them how to deal with what they are going through."

In Wichita, the program is offered once-a-month. It takes place in the evening at Wesley, and in the morning at Via Christi St. Francis.

Credit Deborah Shaar
Look Good Feel Better participant Cindy Alcaraz learns make-up tips.

Crockett says they average about two to six women each month, but she’d like to see more women take advantage of the program.

"They don’t know what to anticipate coming into a workshop," she says. "While they are here, it’s an emotional relief for them to learn that it’s not as tough out there that it has been. They know they're other people there that will listen to them. They know there are places where they can go for help and advice. And they share a lot."

Cosmetologist Bridget Mack finishes up the step-by-step makeover with lipstick on Cindy and then takes a few pictures.

Cindy says she should be able to recreate this make-up routine and appreciates the tips. She’ll be done with her chemo and radiation by mid-July.

"The one thing I learned that I wasn’t quite sure of was putting the eyeshadow on, she says. "I always wanted my eyes to look like that but never knew how to do it."

Credit Deborah Shaar
Look Good Feel Better participant Cindy Alcaraz.

For volunteers like Bridget Mack, knowing she helps women look their best during a difficult time is what keeps her coming back.

"The best part of the evening is when we are all finished with the ladies and they get to see themselves in a whole different light," Mack says. "That 'a-ha' moment and that light in their eyes when they go, 'I am pretty.'"

The transformations are real, volunteer Becky Jones sees it every month.

"You tend to see the ladies come in here, and they are quite quiet, and they don’t have a lot to say. When they leave, it’s like they’ve been friends for years, and they do feel better about themselves," Jones says. "And they have a little more confidence, a little more spring in their step when they go out the door."

The Cancer Society is reaching out to local health care systems and cancer care centers to get the word out about Look Good, Feel Better. They would like more women might participate, as well as be able to walk away with a small victory in their battle against cancer.

Credit Bryan Thompson