‘A makeover for the spirit’ | TheUnion.com

‘A makeover for the spirit’

Battling cancer upends your entire life. You can't work. You can't eat. Some days, it's more than you can do to get out of bed. But as difficult as cancer treatments can be on your body, the emotional and psychological hardships can be just as bad, if not worse, than the physical side effects.

Women, in particular, can have a hard time accepting what they see in the mirror during treatments. Dealing with hair loss, ashy skin, blackening nails or loss of nails might seem minor in the face of fighting death, but all of these side effects can have a tremendous impact.

That is why Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital (SNMH) Community Cancer Center offers those living with cancer the Look Good Feel Better® program, a free national service program for women who are undergoing cancer treatment.

A collaboration between the American Cancer Society (ACS), Personal Care Products Council Foundation, and the Professional Beauty Association, Look Good Feel Better is dedicated to helping women with cancer cope with the appearance-related side effects of treatment. Since 1989, the program has empowered nearly one million women in the United States to reclaim their sense of control, confidence and self-esteem.

Locally, the Look Good Feel Better program started at SNMH about seven years ago.

"I went to an Oncology Nursing Society conference and learned about the program and really wanted to offer it to our community," said Linda Aeschliman, RN, Nurse Navigator at SNMH Community Cancer Center who coordinates the classes. "Now, we have three wonderful professional beauty consultants who volunteer and donate their time to teach the classes."

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The volunteer instructors offer complimentary group, individual and online beauty sessions that include lessons on dealing with temporary hair loss, skin, complexion and nail changes. The two-hour group workshop includes tips on makeup application techniques and skin and nail care help.

Instructors also demonstrate how to manage hair loss using wigs, turbans, scarves and accessories.

The program includes a video featuring celebrity stylist Stacy London sharing advice on styling during and after cancer treatment. Each woman who participates in the program gets a care package with $200 worth of product to take home so they can continue to look good and feel better every day.

"Let's be honest; as women, whether you wear a lot of makeup, a little, or none at all, we all care about looking good when we walk out the door. Some women try to go through this journey without letting anyone know that they are going through cancer, and that's hard to do when your hair is coming out and your nails are falling off," said Deryl Wallace, Program Manager of the California Division of ACS. "When women feel better about how they look it helps them feel better on the inside, as well. We look at it as a makeover for the spirit."

One local woman who experienced the program's powerful impact is 68-year-old Shirley Veale. In June 2015, Veale's routine mammogram showed abnormalities. More testing confirmed a diagnosis of lobular breast cancer. She underwent chemotherapy and began losing her hair almost immediately.

Veale was reluctant to leave the house and didn't want to let anyone other than her family know what she was going through.

"I'm a private person, and I didn't want to see pity in people's eyes wherever I went," Veale said. "I never had a pity party, and I'm proud of myself for that."

In February, Veale read an article in The Union about Meleesa Pellerino, owner of Image by Design, who offers free hair and makeup services to women fighting cancer. She called her to ask what she could do about her eyebrows and eyelashes falling out, and Pellerino invited her to come to Look Good Feel Better.

"It was great. They cover everything you could possibly have questions about," said Veale.

Today, Veale has completed treatment and is feeling good. Her hair is back, complete with a new style. She's donating the many hats she wore during treatment to others facing the same struggles she did.

She says she is grateful for the support she received through Look Good Feel Better. "It feels like a support group. It was very positive."

Aeschliman agrees that the most important impact the class has is on the spirit of the participants.

"The best thing about the class is the chatter and laughter that I hear while the class is going on. That's the feel good part — the looking good just flows naturally from the sharing and the understanding that is happening."

Look Good Feel Better

Next class is Monday, Nov. 14.

Class is free to women undergoing cancer treatment.

For details or to register, call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 or Linda Aeschliman at 530-274-6657.

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