Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Will the real Slim Shady, please, stand-up?

Lookin' Good and Feelin' Better...

OK so S.I. never called, but the highlight of my week was meeting up with 5 other women (3 of them coincidentally diagnosed with Triple Negative breast cancer). All of them, mostly bald and at various stages of finishing up their treatment - chemo, radiation, the works. We had been invited by the American Cancer Society and the Personal Care Products Council Foundation to "model" the 'before' and 'after' of how the right make-up techniques and the right wigs and scarves can make you feel like a human being again through cancer treatment (which, on more than one occasion, I have compared to 'napalming' one's body and soul.) Amelia (7) and I made our way over to Alexandria (my old stomping grounds and where my mom is still living in our childhood home). I dropped her at "Gramma Carolyn's". We pulled up to 500 N. View Terrace and my mom was bent over with a shovel and digging something out of a bush. Amelia asked me, "What is Gramma Carolyn hunting?" Who knows. She is, as I have often said, "a one-woman show" with the theater that she built in Old Town and very funny to watch from afar. I gave them a Target gift card and told them to go wild looking for party favors and plates for Luke's first birthday party. The Look Good...Feel Better session was in an office actually just two blocks from my mom's theater, MetroStage.

I hauled my wardrobe changes and four mannequin heads with various wig options onto the site, but somehow I still was not feeling like Christy Turlington. (I had to wait til later for the 'transformation.') Waiting for me and the other models were Hans (my favorite wig master from Norway) and his father-in-law, Eivind, who used to do Rosalyn Carter's hair for 4 years and has had a prominent salon on upper Wisconsin Avenue for decades (Lucien and Eivind). Eivind has been volunteering his time with "Look Good, Feel Better" for 21 years since the nationwide program began. Hans has been donating his time and expertise for more than a decade and runs a class at Georgetown's Lombardi Cancer center once a month. Nearly every hospital in America does or should participate in the "Look Good...Feel Better" program. (If there is not one at a hospital near you and you have just been diagnosed, call them now and demand it.) It is one of the single best things that a cancer patient can do to minimize the side effects of cancer treatment and feel not only like a human being again (as opposed to a Kling-on) but also to feel beautiful. When you walk outside the house and don't have your "body armor" on - lipstick, blush, eyebrows and wig - people start treating you like a sick person, you start acting like a sick person and slowly you start losing your will to fight. I know because I have been there.

Lisa Burris - the program's coordinator - introduced the two make-up artists and, here's the fun part, we opened up a satchel of what must have been 250 dollars worth of the best make-up products money can buy. It was like Christmas! I am not supposed to mention product names because the program is brand neutral and all of the major cosmetics companies participate (Bobby Brown, Chanel, Mary Kay, Aveda, MAC, Estee Lauder, Avon, Revlon). OK, I just broke the rules - but I thought you had to know just how good this loot is that they give "free" to every cancer patient who comes to every "Look Good...Feel Better" session at any hospital in America. If you have a relative or friend who was diagnosed recently sign them up for a session ASAP. This is as crucial as scheduling chemo. So we played for a bit and learned the trick for drawing in eyebrows - three dots - one in the inner corner, one above the Iris, and one on the outer corner. Connect the dots and "Voila!" You are no longer a Kling-on. You saw women come through the door who had flat if not down-turned mouths suddenly grinning and squealing with laughter as we all put on a new persona with each color of lipstick that we might never have tried otherwise.

Then Eivind explained how he had literally taken a step off of Air Force One at the end of the Carter administration and never looked back as he dove into this incredible program for cancer patients. His salon still caters to the well-haired and well-heeled (dare I say well-healed should one include those of us who sneak into his back room with the wall of wigs and the backstage dressing room feel.) If you need a wig or have a friend who was diagnosed, make an appointment with Hans and Eivind. They see about 25 women a week who are about to lose their hair and they make you feel like a million bucks when you walk out the door.

The problem is "Look Good...Feel Better" needs more hair stylists and make-up artist volunteers to run the sessions once a month at all the local hospitals. So we need help.

But here is the beautiful part. During the all-day photo shoot - we took before and after photos - I met two other women who were Triple Negative (perhaps only a coincidence because this is the breast cancer that strikes so often young women). One told me how she had not found any resources that weren't too scary with awful statistics to tell her teenage boys and husband about what Triple Negative was. She, however, had heard about The Today Show segment and asked them to watch with her. That was the first time they understood what she had and what she was facing. She told me at the beginning of the session that she hadn't bothered to buy a wig. "What's the point," she asked? She had the most beautiful eye lashes (I had sudden eye lash envy since I now have none.) She started putting on the make-up - her eyes popped even more. She put on, first, the blond short Princess Di wig then an awfully stylish gray one with a great cut. She had worn jeans. I lent her my crushed suede jacket and she went up for her "close-up" and looked like she had been modeling all her life. She was full of confidence, laughter and sass. I gave her my coat to keep. It looked so good on her.

One of the other models we called "Tina Turner" because she brought her shortest mini-skirt suit, and go-go boots and an attitude to match. Every wig she put on, she looked like a different hot, Motown singer. She also was grinning as she walked out the door. Everyone was. There were hugs all around.

And then Hans told all the ladies they could choose their favorite wig to take with them - he didn't have to. That's not the norm. These are $500 wigs. But that's just the kind of guy he is. Amelia, when I picked her up, decided that an alternative name for the program (if you have cancer and don't participate) is "Look Bad...Feel Worse." From the mouths of babes....

Here is the official blurb on the program:

"Look Good...Feel Better is free, non-medical, brand-neutral public service program offered nationwide to help women cope with appearance concerns of cancer treatment. The program is made possible through a collaboration of three national organizations: The Personal Care Products Council Foundation, the American Cancer Society (ACS), and the Professional Beauty Association/National Cosmetology Association.

Look Good...Feel Better offers instruction, tips, suggestions and advice on dealing with hair loss, as well as changes in the skin, complexion and nails during cancer treatment. The two-hour group workshop includes complimentary cosmetic products donated by participating Personal Care Products Council members and is demonstrated by volunteer beauty professionals. Programs are offered in cancer centers, ACS offices, and other community settings. In addition, LGFB offers one-on-one volunteer consultations, self-help materials, Spanish language materials, a program for teens with cancer, and information for men with cancer. For more information about Look Good...Feel Better, or information about programs available in your community, please visit the LGFB Website (, call 1-800-395-LOOK or your local American Cancer Society office."