“It helps people find themselves again.” Look Good Feel Better, the charity changing the face of cancer treatment
A cancer diagnosis is devastating. Lives are turned upside down and it can be hard to remember a time when the greyest of clouds weren’t hanging over everything.
I have lost three close family members to the disease. I know from experience that anything which brings a feeling (however fleeting) of normality is a valuable thing.
Look Good Feel Better (LGFB) is an amazing charity. It uses the talents of make-up professionals and their cosmetic skills to counteract the visual side effects of cancer treatments. The sessions are designed to boost the confidence and sense of well-being of the participants, and offer a social respite from feeling like a ‘professional patient’.
Salford Royal, the Maggie’s Centres at The Christie and The Royal Oldham Hospital are among the North West sites running sessions, and there are other classes across the North and the rest of the UK. But the charity began in the US as Sarah Emerson, regional manager for LBFB in the north, explains.
“It was founded by a doctor who dealt with a lot of cancer patients. She was a pragmatic woman, not remotely image-conscious or interested in make-up and skincare. She got breast cancer and was taken aback by how her self-esteem and confidence were impacted by losing her hair and eyelashes and the changes to her skin and overall appearance. She went for a pamper day including a makeover and facial at Lauder and she was transformed, and it helped her look at herself and see normality again, not a person with cancer. She wondered if it could do the same for others.”
The benefits of a positive mental attitude to well-being are widely acknowledged, but LGFB is about much more than just helping its ‘beneficiaries’ (never ‘patient’) to feel happier with their appearance.
“The sessions are about restoring a bit of normality, not necessarily about having a play with make-up,” says Emerson. “You meet and chat to others in the same situation which is key as people don’t always tell their families everything. You can also feel empowered and restored and leave with a different attitude, perhaps having regained a bit of fight. Make-up and skincare tutorials can help redress some of the physical changes caused by treatment and remind the person that they are still in there. It helps people find themselves again.”
LGFB is a cosmetic charity, not a medical organisation, and so relies on medical partners like Maggie’s and Macmillan to approach cancer departments within hospitals, raise awareness and book sessions. Another vital factor is having the materials to deliver the tutorials. Thankfully, the beauty industry has stepped up to the plate.
“Many of the ladies in the sessions have supported the industry for years. And now the industry is saying thanks by supporting them back. We ask for 250,000 products per year to run the sessions and the industry always commits to that. We couldn’t do it without them as we’re a small, non-profit charity and receive no government funding.”
Regional co-ordinator Nicki Page looks after the volunteers and runs sessions at the Maggie’s Centre near Manchester’s Christie Hospital. I wonder if working so closely with the women created the same ‘confessional’ atmosphere that hairdressers experience?
“It’s not particularly a one-to-one relationship between us and the ladies,” Page says. “We’re not there to counsel, and we try to step back and let conversation develop from within the group. We want sessions to be as light-hearted as possible and it’s great when the women swap numbers.
“Every lady has a different personality, a different diagnosis and is at a different stage of their treatment. We tailor sessions to individual needs. Radiotherapy, for example, can make the skin go red. They call it a power surge, so we talk about primers to wear under foundation to calm down the redness. They are all closed sessions so the women can take their wigs off if they want to. It’s also a real laugh at times and the difference at the end is amazing. You really see how important it is.”
Page continues: “One lady was terminally ill with a very rare blood cancer. Only three people at The Christie were being treated for this, but due to data protection they were unable to contact one another. At the workshop the lady burst into tears about how lonely and isolated she felt, but as she chatted with the other women, it transpired that the lady sitting next to her was another of the three with the same type of cancer. They found someone they could share their experience with and discovered that they lived within five miles of one another.”
Even with the most challenging prognosis and the demands of treatment, life somehow has to go on. Emerson explains that the charity is only too aware of how vital it is to make as much of everyday life as you possibly can. “We’re not curative and we’re not a pill or a drug, but mental well-being and state of mind impacts how people are physically able to get through treatment.
“This, in turn, can very much help the curative side of things. While on treatment most people still have to work, do the school run, shop for the family or walk the dog. Sometimes just getting up in the morning and getting ready to leave the house can be the biggest challenge. We want to help people feel stronger and more mentally able to do that.”
Look Good Feel Better is looking for volunteers to deliver their service (including beauty therapists, salon staff, beauty brand consultants, and freelance make-up artists). If you have at least one year of experience in skincare or the application of make-up and a kind, sensitive and friendly personality, please contact: lookgoodfeelbetter.co.uk/volunteer/beauty-volunteers/
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Thought for the Day: ”Keep your face always toward the sunshine – and the shadows will fall behind you.” – Walt Whitman