BY SUSAN KEETER
“It was as if she was trying to disappear inside her clothes,” explains nurse Kristen Thomas, remembering hot summer days when a teenage cancer patient showed up for appointments hidden under a woolen ski cap and layers of heavy clothing.
When Thomas overheard that patient confess that dealing with her changed appearance was harder than coping with cancer, Thomas knew she had to do something. Melanie Comito, MD, chief of the Upstate Cancer Center’s Waters Center for Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders, guided Thomas to the American Cancer Society’s “Look Good Feel Better” program. It is a national program that teaches beauty techniques to people with cancer to help them manage appearance-related side effects of cancer treatment.
Thomas and Molly Napier, nurse manager of the pediatric outpatient unit, applied for the Upstate Cancer Center to become the first “Look Good Feel Better” site for teens in New York state.
On Oct. 23, patients Artesia Gjoncari, Julia Nguyen, Taylor Way and Amanda Wilson gathered in a conference room at the cancer center. Licensed cosmetologists Maria Ascrizzi and Angela McBride greeted each of the young women with a gift bag of cosmetics donated by companies including Estee Lauder, Smashbox and Burt’s Bees. Ascrizzi and McBride offered step-by-step instruction on everything from wearing turbans to drawing natural-looking eyebrows.
The room was quiet at first, and two girls sat alone. But, thanks to experimenting with eye shadow and wig brushes, the girls started talking and laughing, comparing makeup tips and gulping down soft drinks and snacks.
“It’s not just about makeup, it’s about making connections with other teens in a fun environment,” explains Thomas. “Cancer treatment can be isolating.”
“Side effects can take a big toll. Patients lose confidence,” notes Stephanie D’Amico of the American Cancer Society. “This program is transformative.”
Ascrizzi and McBride have been volunteering with “Look Good Feel Better” for adults since 1989, but this was their first experience working with teens with cancer. Ascrizzi, a 20-plus year cancer survivor, says that they are motivated by the opportunity to give back in a nontraditional way.
Upstate plans to offer the teen program several times a year. While the goal is to keep the sessions small and intimate, “Look Good Feel Better for Teens” at Upstate will be open to any teenager with cancer in New York state.
The young women from ‘Look Good Feel Better’:
Artesia Gjoncari, 20, of Syracuse
Symptoms: knee pain
Physicians: Timothy Damron, MD, and Philip Monteleone, MD
Treatment: chemotherapy, surgery and physical therapy
Her thoughts: “It was a shock when my waist-length, curly hair fell out two weeks after I started chemotherapy. At the session, I learned how to do my eyebrows and how to tie scarves.”
Julia Nguyen, 16, of Camillus
Diagnosis: primary mediastinal large B-cell lymphoma
Symptoms: swelling in face, not feeling well
Physician: Irene Cherrick, MD
Her thoughts: “I’d never used makeup before, so it was all new, and fun. I liked learning about wearing a scarf with a prom dress when you have a chest port.”
Taylor Way, 15, of Cuyler
Diagnosis: Ewing’s sarcoma
Symptoms: hip pain
Physicians: Philip Monteleone, MD, and Paul Aridgides, MD
Treatment: chemotherapy and radiation
Her thoughts: “It was nice to learn about makeup, especially eye shadow. But when I lost my hair, I decided there was no need to wear a scarf or wig. This is who I am now.”
Amanda Wilson, 16, of Tully
Diagnosis: non-Hodgkin lymphoma
Symptoms: chest pain
Physician: Andrea Dvorak, MD
Her thoughts: “I spent a lot of time playing with makeup and watching how-to videos when I was in the hospital. The session added to my knowledge, especially about good sanitary practices. You can’t have fake nails when you’re in treatment because of bacteria.”
How to participate
Are you a teenager or adult with cancer interested in a “Look Good Feel Better” session?
In the Syracuse area, sessions are offered at the Upstate Cancer Center (teens and adults) and the East Syracuse office of the American Cancer Society (adults only). Contact the Upstate Cancer Center, 800-464-HOPE (4673), or the American Cancer Society at cancer.org or 800-227-2345.
Are you a licensed cosmetologist interested in becoming a “Look Good Feel Better” volunteer?
Contact the American Cancer Society.
Tips from the cosmetologists
Losing your hair?
Some cancer patients, like Taylor Way, are comfortable showing their bald heads when chemotherapy or radiation have caused hair loss. If that’s not for you, there are wigs, hats and turbans for your head and makeup solutions to camouflage the loss of eyelashes and eyebrows.
Cut your hair and save a lock
If your doctor says that you are likely to lose your hair during treatment, consider cutting it short before you begin to lose it. Save a lock of hair, so you can match the color if you decide to get a wig.
If your hair has not been colored or permed, and you need to cut off at least 6 inches, consider donating it to a nonprofit organization that makes wigs for people with medical hair loss.
Scarves and turbans
Use cotton, not silky fabrics, which will slip on your head.
Make Your Own Turban
You can make a turban out of a T-shirt.
- Use any all-cotton T-shirt. Cut straight across the shirt, just under the sleeves.
- Take the bottom portion of the shirt (the “tube”) and center it on your forehead at your hairline.
- Holding each side of the “tube” at the back of your head, cross the piece of fabric in the right hand over the left, creating a figure 8.
- With the fabric crossed, pull the lower half of the figure 8 from the back of your head to the front, creating a headband.
- Tuck any extra fabric under the twisted band.
Create the illusion of lashes by using a fine-tip eyeliner to draw a series of dots at the edge of your upper and lower lids. These will look like eyelashes when someone looks at you directly. Want a bolder look? Use an eyeliner pencil. Apply a thin long line across the upper and lower lids. Smudge for a softer look.
Avoid using false eyelashes with adhesive. The glue may cause skin damage and infection.
To fill in a thinning brow or re-create an entire eyebrow:
- Find the brow bone with your fingertip. Use an eyebrow pencil.
- Hold the pencil straight against your nose, parallel to the inside corner of your eye. Draw a dot just above the brow bone. This is where your eyebrow should begin.
- Looking straight ahead, place the pencil parallel to the outside edge of your iris (the colored part of your eye.) Place a dot where the highest point of the brow line should be.
- Place the pencil diagonally from the bottom corner of your nose, past the corner of your eye, and draw a dot on your brow bone. Make sure the outer edge of the brow isnot lower than the inside.
- Once the dots are placed, connect them with into a brow line with feathery strokes of color. Make the brow fuller on the inside (near your nose).
Wigs are made of either synthetic material or human hair. Most are made with more hair than is needed, so they can be cut and styled.
A turban or wide headband worn with a wig camouflages the hairline and makes the wig look more natural.
Avoid using standard hairbrushes. They can stretch and damage the hair on the wig. Use a wide brush with loose bristles. Think reverse when brushing your wig. Start at the ends and work up.
Don’t use hair dryers, crimpers or curling irons on wigs.
Don’t cook, grill or shower in a wig. Avoid steam heat from clothes dryers and microwaves. The wig will frizz or melt.
Wash your wig every week or two. Fill a sink with water and add a few drops of clear dish soap. Submerge the wig and swish it around. Drain the sink and refill it with clear water. Submerge the wig in the clear water to wash out the soap. Wrap the wig in a towel. Avoid scrubbing, which causes frizz. Dry your wig on a shower head or a bottle, not a wig stand. (The stand will stretch the wig.)
Changes in your skin?
Dark circles under your eyes, redness and discoloration can occur during cancer treatment. To camouflage skin changes, use a concealer that matches your skin color. Apply dots at areas that you wish to correct, then blot or lightly pat using your finger or a sponge.
Moisturizer, sunscreen, perfumes, etc.
With chemotherapy — Moisturizer and sunscreen are important because chemotherapy can cause skin to become dry and more sensitive to sun.
With radiation — Don’t use cosmetics, perfumes or deodorants on treated areas without checking with your physician. Avoid exposing treated areas to the sun.
Done with chemotherapy?
Get new makeup after you are finished with treatments. Dispose of the makeup you used while you were in treatment. It will have absorbed the chemotherapy medication when it touched your skin.
Got a chest port?
Create a scarf with a rosette
If you’d like to wear something with a low-cut neckline, get an extra large (one yard) square silky scarf that complements your outfit (For example, a red scarf for a black dress). It’s a great solution for a prom dress or other formal attire.
- Fold the scarf diagonally in half to create a triangle.
- Knot the two long points together into a tight knot.
- Put the knot over your left wrist.
— With your left hand, hold the point of the bottom layer of the scarf.
- Hold the point of the top layer of the scarf in your right hand and pull the two points, creating a rosette.
— Then, take the opposite ends and tie them together, so the scarf looks like a sling.
— Hang the knotted area of the scarf over your arm.
— Grasp the untied/knotted points of the scarf with the same hand.
— With the opposite hand, hold the piece of scarf closest to you. Pull your arm through, and it will create a knot.
- Drape the scarf over your shoulder.
— Use a safety pin or decorative brooch to hold the scarf in place on the back of your dress or on your bra strap.
This article appears in the winter 2018 issue of Cancer Care magazine.