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Look Good, Feel Better

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Arnie Bowers sits perched in a chair at the Center for Cancer support looking into a mirror. The mid day sun lights up her already glowing skin and vibrant eyes as cosmetologist Fern Hoolan shows her how to apply make-up to skin affected by chemotherapy.

Hoolan opens a box of cosmetics and pulls out one item at a time: body lotion, lipstick, concealer, eye shadow, foundation and talks about each one with Bowers. Hoolan begins the twelve step makeover by wipe Bowers face with a cleansing cloth and says, “I think your skin’s gotten clearer since we saw you last.”

Bowers discovered she had breast cancer in February and has had a mastectomy and gone through six of eight cycles of chemotherapy. Even more difficult than losing her breast was losing her hair and seeing her skin change because it is so much more visible to the rest of the world. “Your face is the first thing people see. You don’t want people to look at you like, ‘oh, poor thing’,” Bowers says.

“I feel pretty good; it (cancer) doesn’t slow me down for work at all,” she says. But Bowers wants more than to just feel good, she wants to look good, too, so she got involved with the Look Good, Feel Better program at the Center for Cancer Support.

Look Good, Feel Better is a partnership between the National Cosmetology Association (NCA), the Cosmetic Toiletry and Fragrance Association (CTFA) and the American Cancer Society (ACA). Started in 1989, the aim of the program is to offset appearance related changes due to cancer treatment.

The idea for Look Good, Feel Better came about when a doctor called the CTFA because on of his patients wouldn’t leave her room; she was too depressed about how she looked. The CTFA arranged a makeover that not only improved her physical appearance, but improved her mental disposition, as well.

After such great success with one woman, the CTFA decided to take the program national. The NCA encouraged its member cosmetologists to join in and volunteer their time to the makeovers, and the ACA used its network to get women undergoing cancer treatment involved.

The program is currently operating in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

Shirley Gandenberger of Shear Pizazz in Pony, Montana gestures deliberately with her hands as she explains discovering the Look Good, Feel Better program at the 1989 NCA Conference in California. As one of three area trainers for the program in Montana she holds regional trainings to teach volunteer cosmetologists and beauticians how to deal with the specifics of someone going through cancer treatment. “When you give them (cancer treatment patients) a little color, it’s giving them a little bit of life,” she says.

Gandenberger held one of the trainings in May at the Center for Cancer Support in Bozeman. The four hour, free training taught cosmetologists to recognize and treat cancer treatment-related problems. Women undergoing treatment often have to deal with puffiness, gauntness, acne and darkened fingernails among other things. But beyond learning how to treat the physical side of what cancer patients go through, the cosmetologists get instruction on how the treatments may be affecting women psychologically and spiritually.

Hoolan says that understanding the feelings behind the faces she was fixing up was the most important part of the Look Good, Feel Better training. “I wanted to have a little more insight into the patients’ psychology and feelings. It’s invaluable to have that perspective.” The training helped her to “encourage and help without feeling condescending or invasive,” Hoolan added.

Bowers and Hoolan met through their jobs at the hospital where Hoolan works at Big Sky Cosmetic Surgery and Skin Care and Bowers is a registrar for Outpatient Services at Bozeman Deaconess.

Bowers registers cancer patients daily, but was surprised when she herself was diagnosed just one year after receiving a clean bill of health from her mammogram. Her first reaction to the diagnosis was “Me? No, I’m healthy.” She worked out every morning and was a distributor for a herbal company. “How does someone like that get something like this?” she asked. “Her next reaction was, “Here’s the problem, how am going to deal with it?”

Hoolan had been giving complementary facials to women going through cancer treatments, so Bowers turned to her friend for help. “It felt good just to be touched,” Bowers remembers.

Bowers filled Hoolan in on the Look Good, Feel Better program and Hoolan attended the training and was excited to be able to offer the product kit along with the makeover.

A program like Look Good, Feel Better is important now more than ever. Darlene ?? President of the Center for Cancer Support Board, says cancer incident rates are going up, but the death rate is going down. Darlene, also a cancer survivor says, “When you are selecting treatments, you figure you are going to live and plan for it.”

At the end of the makeover, Bowers pulls her wig out of her bag and expertly arranges it on her bald head. She combed the wig just as she would her own hair. Hoolan asks, “How do you feel?”

“Beautiful,” Bowers smiles, “Ready to go out to lunch.”

Her mother-in-law agrees, “You are beautiful.”

August 16, 2005

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