Look Good Feel Better: Working Wonders for Cancer Survivors' Self-Esteem

Women going through cancer treatment often don't feel beautiful on the outside, but there's hope thanks to the “Look Good Feel Better” program.

For the past 22 months, I’d wanted to attend one of the “Look Good Feel Better” seminars offered for women who’ve been diagnosed with cancer. But every time a class came to a city near me, I never signed up. I don’t know why I didn’t feel comfortable enough to call and register, but I didn’t. I knew if I went, I’d be around other breast cancer patients and survivors, but I was still hesitant. For some reason, I just couldn’t do it.

At the beginning of May, I received a bimonthly calendar of events from my local cancer wellness center. I always look forward to receiving the calendar because there are usually interesting classes available. I flipped the calendar open to see what was on the schedule. There were several art therapy classes, some writing classes, a one-hour drumming class and several more. The one that caught my eye was the “Look Good Feel Better” class. I noticed the dates and realized the next one was only a week away and was going to be held at the hospital around the corner from me. I read the little paragraph description about the class. It said the program would teach beauty techniques to women who were currently undergoing cancer treatment and help them learn to combat appearance-related side effects. I realized, as I continued reading, that I really needed that class. I’d been so tired lately. The last time I looked in the mirror, I noticed dark circles under my eyes. This was evidence of many sleepless nights related to my inability to get comfortable.

Although I was hesitant, I picked up the phone and made myself call to sign up for the class. Registration was fairly simple. A woman from the American Cancer Society (partners in the Look Good Feel Better program) asked me questions about my diagnosis and treatment then took some demographic information. She asked the color of my complexion and asked me to choose one of these shades — light, medium, dark or very dark. I told her I would consider my skin tone to be light. She jotted down the information and gave me instructions on how to find the class at the hospital.

The following week, on the morning of the class, it was pouring down rain. Great, just what I needed, a reason not to go. I rolled over in bed and closed my eyes. I lay there a few minutes enjoying the sound of the thunder outside and then realized I needed to keep my commitment. As much as I hated to do it, I made myself get out of bed, shower and get dressed. Since they were going to be teaching me how to apply makeup properly, I assumed I was to go to the class without makeup on. That was going to be a real challenge because I never go anywhere without some makeup. I ate a quick breakfast, grabbed my purse, and headed out the door.

When I reached the hospital, I went inside and followed the directions given by the American Cancer Society volunteer. The staff at the hospital had no idea where the course was going to be held, and didn’t even have it on their schedule. I almost turned around and went back home, but decided I was going to stick this thing out. I found another member of the hospital personnel and inquired about the class. This gentleman had no clue where to send me but asked me to wait a few minutes while he did some research. Finally, after about 15 minutes, I was told to go to the building next door and to take the elevator down to the bottom floor. The class was going to be held in the Radiation/Oncology clinic.

I was the first person to enter the classroom and was greeted by a friendly young woman and a portly man. I was asked to take a seat at a long conference table and fill out a registration form. As I was filling out my form, a few other women came into the room. They’d all had trouble locating the class, too. Only five women arrived for the class. I was glad to know it was going to be a small group and began to feel a little more comfortable. I looked around at the other women who’d come for the training. Two of the women were bald and two were wearing wigs. I was the only one with a full set of short hair. We were all in various stages of treatment. Two of the ladies were currently undergoing chemotherapy, one had just begun radiation, one had just completed radiation and then there was me. I had completed treatment for breast cancer and was now undergoing therapy for lymphedema, a side effect from my surgery and having had lymph nodes removed. After everyone had been seated, the class began.

The instructor handed each of us a magenta colored bag with the words, “Look Good Feel Better” inscribed in white across the front. We were instructed to check the label and make sure our complexion color was correct. I looked at my tag and sure enough, the word LIGHT was on my tag. Next we were told to open our bags. As we looked inside, we were amazed at some of the big name brand cosmetics inside. I began pulling out my items and found Estee Lauder, Revlon, IT Cosmetics, Dior and many others. There was a complete set of makeup (foundation, powder, eye shadows, eye liner, moisturizers, mascara, eye liner, lipstick and concealer) along with makeup brushes and sponge applicators. When everyone in the class had their products lined up in front of them at the conference table, the instructor asked anyone wearing makeup to remove it with the makeup removal cloths provided. I was able to skip that step since I wasn’t wearing make up at all.

We watched and listened as the instructor gave helpful hints and tips for applying makeup. Step by step each of the class members applied one product after the other until we were transformed. The instructors made sure to answer any questions and provide detailed application instructions. There was no hurry and everyone was having lots of fun. We laughed and joked around as the instructors stopped by each person's seat and checked the progress of our work. With all of the makeup applied, we each looked around the room at each other and grinned. Instead of five worn and weathered women, we were now beautiful and glowing. Even though we were all dealing with some level of pain or discomfort, we actually did look good and feel better than we had when we’d entered the room.

After we completed the makeup application, the instructors gave helpful information on applying scarves, turbans and wigs. A mannequin was used and different types of head wear were demonstrated. The two women in our class who recently lost their hair were amazed at all the various ways head coverings could be worn. The instructors made sure to go over options for choosing the correct wig for various face shapes and gave guidelines on correct wig placement on the head. Care instructions for the wigs were also demonstrated including washing, styling and drying.

We chatted for a few minutes and gathered our makeup items carefully placing them back into our magenta colored bags. The class was dismissed but right before everyone got ready to leave, I asked if one of the instructors would mind taking a group photo for me. For some reason, no sooner than I’d asked the question, tears began to flow. The instructor waited a few minutes and asked if I was okay. I don’t know where that overflow of emotion had come from. I guess I’d just realized I was finally starting to feel normal again. All of the ladies lined up for the photo and we gave our best smiles. When I took my cellphone from the instructor to look at the photo, I felt so good. All of the ladies gathered round as I shared the picture with them. “Don’t we all look amazing?” I said. Each one smiled and agreed the class had been a success. We all looked wonderful and felt so much better. I’m so thankful I made myself go to the class. I don’t know what I’d been afraid of all those months prior.

One makeup kit is given to each woman attending the “Look Good Feel Better” class. The value of the items in the kits is well over $100. If a woman is ever diagnosed with recurrence or receives a new diagnosis, she can reapply to attend another session and receive another kit. The reason, according to our class instructor, for this rule is because of the products donated by large makeup companies. They want to ensure they have enough kits for every woman who needs one to be able to receive it.

What a great program! You can learn more about it or register here: Look Good Feel Better.