Look good…feel better

Program helps Lawrence patients tackle chemo with confidence

About a month ago, Carol Brown found out she had breast cancer.

Like many people with the disease, Brown felt like her life was spinning out of control. Suddenly there was chemo, talk of a mastectomy, the fear of losing her hair.

“My first thought, ‘I’ve got to get over this, because I’ve got a 15-year-old son at home, and I have a whole lot to live for,'” Brown says.

But Brown found one thing she could control: her looks.

And so when her hair began to fall out, Brown got a wig, free of charge. When her skin became dull, she received a complimentary set of beauty products from Chanel, Estee Lauder and Avon.

Everything was courtesy of the American Cancer Society’s Look Good…Feel Better program, which, according to Brown, has a very accurate name.

“To come into this program was such a lift to me,” Brown says. “It was just fun. And then to receive all these really nice cosmetics…”

Doing their bit

The Look Good…Feel Better program partners with salons and hospitals across the country. In Lawrence, cosmetologists at Vanity Beauty Shop, 846 Ill., work with the program.

Cosmetologists Delaine Stalkfleet, left, and Willadean Haller, right, chat with Carol Brown while she gets a trim at Vanity Beauty Shop, 846 Ill. About a month ago, Brown was diagnosed with breast cancer and soon after lost her hair following rounds of chemotherapy. Through the American Cancer Society's Look Good...Feel Better program, which partners with salons and hospitals, Haller worked with Brown to enhance her appearance.

Cosmetologist Willadean Haller helps clients choose head coverings like wigs, scarves, hats and turbans free of charge.

“We’ve had them come in tears and leave with a smile,” Haller says.

“It makes us feel very good to feel like we have done our bit to help someone in need.”

The number of clients with cancer the salon gets varies week by week. Sometimes, no one comes in for a month, and other times, Haller books three or four appointments in one week.

Low maintenance

For Carol Brown, losing her hair wasn’t easy.

After the second of eight chemo treatments, it started falling out in clumps.

“Some women are so courageous to be bald,” she says. “I’m not. … I held onto my little sprigs of hair. And I comb them every night.”

Brown worked with Haller to choose a wig, and she says that she’s really happy with the one she got. It’s made from synthetic hair, the kind that melts if it’s spritzed with hairspray.

But it’s low-maintenance, and Brown can drop it off at Vanity Beauty Shop whenever she wants so it can be washed and styled.

Every day, Brown dons the wig and uses some of her new makeup. She says feeling good about the way she looks helps her enjoy going to work every day.

Big impact

Nicolette Kessler is a cancer survivor.

Two years ago, when she was battling the disease, she attended the Look Good…Feel Better class at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. She liked the program so much that she signed on to become its Lawrence coordinator.

Brown takes a look at herself in a handheld mirror after having her wig styled Wednesday at Vanity Beauty Shop.

Now Kessler, a cosmetologist who works in Kansas City, teaches most of the monthly classes. She says the groups are usually small – about three or four people usually attend – but that the program’s impact is huge.

“It lets them know that that’s kind of something you can have a little bit of control over when all those changes happen,” Kessler says.

She can relate.

“I guess with my personal experience, it was sort of important for me to feel like I looked good while I was going through this because I still had a job and I still went to work and I didn’t want to look like I was sick, Kessler says.

But Look Good…Feel Better isn’t just about wigs and false eyelashes, she adds.

It’s all about support.

“It’s really nice to hear them exchange stories and recognize that they’re not alone,” Kessler says.

Covering the costs

Having access to all the products and services provided through Look Good…Feel Better also is beneficial for cancer patients who, because of high medical costs, couldn’t otherwise afford them.

Even Brown, a patient-accounts representative at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, 325 Maine, admits worrying about medical bills.

“When I first got this diagnosis, it frightened me that I’m not going to be able to afford this illness. It’s so expensive,” Brown says.

And while Brown isn’t strapped for cash, she probably wouldn’t go out and buy a $50 jar of Chanel foundation.

The Look Good…Feel Better program meets every third Wednesday at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, 325 Maine. Participants must register with the American Cancer Society before attending. To register, call (800) 359-1025.

It’s those “fun” little luxuries, she says, that help give her an ounce of control and normalcy. She’ll need both in upcoming months.

“It used to be a disease took over your life, and you somehow survived or you didn’t. I can’t get rid of this disease by myself … but I can manage some of my own behaviors throughout this time and not just give in to being sick,” Brown says.

“So when you have something that lifts you up, it’s just so much easier.”