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How Look Good Feel Better's workshops confront the cancer blues

Canadian Living
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How Look Good Feel Better's workshops confront the cancer blues

Through the course of our lives, we will all be affected by cancer—whether we're diagnosed ourselves or we have to watch a family member or friend undergo treatment. Cancer isn't just a physical affliction. It's emotional as well, though it has taken until this year, 2014, for the psychological symptoms to be given a name—the "cancer blues." Coined by charitable foundation Beauty Gives Back, which provides cosmetic and personal care products, as well as programs for women dealing with cancer, the term refers to the emotional fallout of confronting a life-threatening illness that can also have serious visible side effects. According to a recent US study, over 75 percent of cancer patients admit to embarrassment and shame about at least one type of bodily change during treatment. Cancer_1 For Beauty Gives Back, better grooming and personal care are one way to regain self esteem and combat embarrassment and shame. That's why the organization supports Look Good Feel Better, a program of free two-hour workshops where women diagnosed with cancer within the past year have the chance to learn about cosmetic hygiene, makeup application and hair alternatives such as wigs, scarves and hats. I was recently able to attend one such workshop at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre (there are 118 workshop locations across Canada), where I sat in a room with 12 other women—six patients, three volunteers and three observers. The room was set up so that only the participants—ages 30 to 70—were allowed to sit at the table, facing one another so they could better interact. Each woman was given a box to suit her skin tone (light, medium or dark) filled with products donated by member companies of the Canadian Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association. Each year, the association donates about $3.2 million wholesale worth of product. Beyond hair loss, I had never considered the other possible side effects of radiation, chemotherapy and cancer pharmaceuticals, but cancer patients can also suffer from dry skin, pigmentation, flaking and weight loss or gain. Women can lose hair, breast tissue and the ovaries that produce their hormones, thus potentially sending them into early menopause. These workshops teach women about choosing gentle products, maintaining a high level of vigilance when it comes to hygiene (no product or brush sharing!), protecting against UV radiation (chemo and radiation make skin more susceptible to sun damage) and drawing on lashes and eyebrows. The workshop also includes a large section on choosing a wig, caring for it, getting tax breaks and even how to tie a scarf when you don't feel like wearing your wig. This information was particularly useful, because most women have never dealt with significant hair loss before, and they've never had to buy a quality wig that fits, is easy to style and looks realistic, as is often the goal. All of the information that the 1,800 volunteers across Canada teach at these sessions is available online at lgfb.ca, so the point of these workshops isn't to give women information that they can't receive anywhere else. Instead, it's a safe space where women dealing with the same issues can come together to focus on something other than treatment. They learn together, and by the end have a box full of new, full-size products and the ability to do basic makeup that makes them feel better about their appearance. In the face of a horrifying illness, sometimes doing the most simple, normal things is the best way to heal. During the workshop that I attended, I noticed growing smiles on the faces of the women as they applied makeup, and many of the participants gave heartfelt thanks to the volunteers when the two hours were complete. Cancer is scary, and I think programs like Look Good Feel Better are so important to help women remember the fun little nothing moments about life, which can build confidence and optimism to fight whatever challenges they'll have to face during treatment. Find a workshop near you. Donate. Watch the latest video by Beauty Gives Back, a visual representation of what the foundation aims to do to support women with the cancer blues: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ChPnmH39VNc For more beauty info, visit our Style Desk blog.
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How Look Good Feel Better's workshops confront the cancer blues

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