Organizations Look to Boost Self-Esteem in Patients and Survivors

Organizations across America are dedicated to making sure patients with cancer look and feel beautiful.

A cancer diagnosis comes with an array of emotions. On top of what is happening internally to an individual’s body — patients first notice what is happening externally – most noticeably their looks.

Women place a lot of importance on their appearances while undergoing treatment, especially those diagnosed with incurable metastatic breast cancer (MBC), according to a study conducted by Make Your Dialogue Count.

Researchers surveyed 359 women with MBC and discovered 96 percent experienced some form of appearance-related side effect, the most common being hair loss, with 74 percent reporting that. More than half the women surveyed said their overall physical appearance during treatment had great effects on their self-esteem. This feeling was especially prevalent in younger women, aged 21 to 44.

The study’s authors wrote that that group “felt confused by the changes in their body, like less of a woman and like cancer had stolen their dignity.”

Bonnie Annis can relate to this feeling. As a breast cancer survivor she knows firsthand that cancer can demean and demoralize a person.

“I felt like I was nothing anymore. I had no breasts, my femininity was gone and I was feeling terrible from being in treatment, so I didn’t feel like being out in public,” Annis told CURE.

Similar feelings are common among all those undergoing treatment for cancer, including men and children, which is why organizations like Cancer Survivor Beauty and Support Day Foundation and Look Good Feel Better have been created.

The groups look to boost self-esteem and confidence in those affected by cancer. Cancer Survivor Beauty and Support Day (CSBSD), an annual nationwide event created by Barbara Natof Paget in 2003, seeks to help survivors look and feel beautiful.

On the first Tuesday of every June, beauty-related industries volunteer providing services such as massages, manicures, polish changes, pedicures, waxing, haircuts and blowouts. Participants can be found on the national list of CSBSD.

A group that focuses on helping patients currently in cancer treatment is Look Good Feel Better. It aims to improve quality of life for patients with cancer by offering of complimentary group, individual and self-help beauty sessions.

This group was something Annis avoided for two years because she was afraid. After overcoming her fears, she recently attended a workshop. It was here where professional cosmetologists taught the women how to apply makeup, as well as different styles for head scarves and proper care for wigs. The ladies also got their own makeup bags with beauty products donated by cosmetic companies.

“I looked around the room and there were tears in almost every single person’s eyes,” said Annis. “It was a transformation. We all had felt like we were ugly caterpillars and now we were beautiful butterflies. When we walked in we were not standing erect and proud. When we walked out we had a confidence and a boldness.”

Annis revealed that she found solace in attending the Look Good Feel Better workshop. It helped her regain the confidence she was lacking before. Now, she starts each day by doing her makeup, before she even eats breakfast.

“It’s like I’m putting on my game face,” explained Annis. “I am ready for battle. It makes me feel so much better to do that first thing in the morning.”

Workshops and events that these two groups provide prove to be effective for patients dealing with the effects of cancer — something that can begin being talked about with health care providers.

The study’s authors concluded that supportive, sensitive and understanding nurses, who encourage communication between themselves and the patient, aids them in their cancer journey. Discussions of the side effects of treatment should occur with every visit and include spouses or other loved ones who provide support.

Annis personally recommends Look Good Feel Better classes and programs similar to it to anyone struggling with cancer. She believes such programs should be recommended by physicians to their patients as a way to aid them personally through the hardship that is cancer.

“You went through this traumatic experience and it was terrible, and you felt like nothing for all this time, but you’re still okay and you’re still vital and you are significant,” Annis said.