Treating the inner self

You may have cancer. But pampering and beauty treatments can give an all-important lift. Catherine Kalamis explains why looking good can make patients feel better

SUE ANDERSON was having cancer treatment when she was offered the chance to indulge in some serious pampering.

She joined 11 other women for an afternoon of indulgence with skilled beauty therapists and came away with a goodie bag of products and perfume worth around £200.

Sue was selected to take part when she was undergoing radio therapy miles from home in Southampton and staying at Manor House, the residential guest house for Channel Islanders having cancer treatment.

The makeover gave her an all-important morale-boost, she said. Hospitals are not usually linked with beauty workshops, but for around 25,000 cancer patients in the UK, they can be.

A charity, Look Good, Feel Better, has been offering a free 12-step skin-care and make-up session to cancer patients since 1994, in conjunction with the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Foundation.

The sessions are designed to teach women - and men in their own scheme - techniques to restore their appearance and self-image after surgery and during chemo and radiation treatment.

The idea is that if someone feels that they look good, it will help them to feel better.

The charity says: 'Women can find the physical side effects of cancer treatment very difficult to cope with and the morale-boosting service is a wonderful opportunity to restore their sense of well-being and self-esteem.'

The scheme is offered in Southampton and at the Royal Marsden in London, which provides an opportunity for Guernsey patients to get involved when they have treatment away from home. But they are held only once a month and only for groups of 12 at a time. Sue, 50, the mother of two teenagers, said she thought she was chosen because she was one of the younger residents at Manor House - at the time, she was having treatment for breast cancer. 'I think it was just the luck of the draw,' she said.

She met up with 11 other patients having treatment for a range of different cancers during the pampering afternoon.

The group bonded over the lipsticks and gave each other all-important support.

Sue said one woman who had chemotherapy had lost her hair and her confidence and she did not want to take her hat off. The others encouraged her and Sue said she 'looked lovely' and it gave her the self-assurance to continue hat-free.

The Southampton workshop included tips on skin-care and make-up as well as extras, such as how to draw in eyebrows if they are lost as a result of treatment, or how to apply eye shadow to best effect if you have lost lashes.

All the products are quite up-market and our goodie bag included a bottle of perfume.'

As a cancer patient, Sue said that she sometimes felt as though people were looking at her.

'I did not lose my hair but having radiotherapy can tend to drag you down and deplete your energy. And some people can get a skin reaction and end up with a radiation burn, which is really like acute sunburn, and need to have dressings applied.

'I was starting to feel quite tired and I was about two weeks into my "exile", as I called it, a long way from home and family [in Guernsey] when I was selected, so it was really good for morale.'

The workshop was staged in the out-patients' unit at Southampton Hospital and was run by three beauticians who were 'highly qualified and glamorous', said Sue. 'One of them said she had had cancer and this was one way of giving something back.'

As well as the make-up afternoon, Sue also received a bunch of flowers when she moved into Manor House, as a gesture from the Pink Ladies support group. 'They were a bunch of Guernsey freesias; it is little things like that that can make you feel good.'

BEAUTICIAN Anne Robins, who is forging a link with the Pink Ladies support group for women with breast cancer, said

pampering for patients can help women boost their inner selves. 'Self-confidence goes right down and a little bit of treatment and

pampering can help.' But she said women have to be careful of which treatments they choose. Cancer patients may have sensitive skin which could react

to certain products. And she does not advise any of the high-tech electrical treatments without first getting a doctor's permission.

Instead, she prefers to offer hands-on treatments such as facials.

'But having said that, I have had one lady who is getting over her treatment who has just had an electrical

facelift and it has made her feel 100% better in herself.'

Anne said she would offer cancer patients products from the sensitive ranges.

Skin-care advice...

  • If you are having chemo, care for your skin as you would a baby's.
  • Use inert, gentle products.
  • Apply simple moisturisers to face and head if there has been hair loss.

Bulstrode House has skin-cooling devices to apply to the scalp and effectively 'freeze' hair follicles which, for some people, can reduce hair loss. But it doesn't work for everyone, the cap can be uncomfortable and using it adds time to a chemo session - often as much as three hours.

(Reproduced courtesy Guernsey Press and Star)

Article dated 18 January 2005

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