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Program liberates cancer patients

Dan Bischoff, Of the Record Staff

Cancer continues to invade lives around the world, but progress is being made. To combat the disease, chemotherapy is often the only option. Sometimes for the person inflicted, however, chemotherapy can seem like the worst of two evils.

The side effects of the treatment vary with individuals, but some common symptoms include a loss of hair, eyebrows, eyelashes, skin tone and a general sick appearance. Because of this, many people do not go into public; shame or embarrassment causes many to sit at home, wrapped up in their isolated recovery.

The American Cancer Society and the National Cosmetology Association joined with the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association (CFTA) to organize a free program for women who have cancer. The "Look Good Feel Better" program is an opportunity for people undergoing cancer treatment to develop skills to improve their appearance and, as a result, their self-image.

The program, described in the "Look Good Feel Better" implementation materials designed by CFTA, focuses on beauty techniques that can help people cope with the body changes resulting from cancer treatment. The "Look Good Feel Better" program can be presented in any number of ways depending on the needs of the participants, the sponsor of a particular program, and the availability of cosmetology professionals for free consultations and makeovers.

Until recently, Summit and Washington county residents had to travel to Provo or Salt Lake to participate in the program. Now it is available at the Heber Valley Medical Center on the second Thursday of each month.

Gena Tuttle has been involved in the program since 1986 and now organizes the program in Heber. She talked Wednesday about the positive effect it had on women.

"It’s one of the most enjoyable things that I do," Tuttle said. "I go there and the ladies get a chance to see each other and know that they are not the only person that has cancer. It’s nice for the ladies to get dressed up and put makeup on, but it’s more important that they can get together and talk about their experiences. They’re surprised at how good they can look, so, it’s fun for them, it’s a girls night out, we have a lot of good times. The overall experience is really positive."

Tuttle feels that the program does more for patients than merely give them a pretty face.

"I think it really does have a good psychological factor," Tuttle said. "It really does help; chemo-radiation ravages your body so if you can just feel good for a few hours that’s all that matters. I have had women say ‘I guess I better go out to eat because I look so good.’ It’s really, really rewarding. It’s one of those things you do and enjoy it while you do it."

The women are paired with volunteer licensed cosmetologists, and provided makeup, wigs and self-help materials in a group setting or one-on-one. They are given a kit worth more than $250 from all the major cosmetic companies.

"It gives women a chance to still have a life, go out in public and be who they are," said Scott Thompson, media director of the American Cancer Society in Salt Lake.

Heber resident Alice Hicken went through the program six years ago and recovered fully from her cancer. Now she is in New Jersey on an LDS mission with her husband Robert. At the time of her cancer, the Heber program wasn’t available and she had to drive to Provo. Even though it was a long drive in her weakened state, Alice was grateful for the "Look Good Feel Better" program.

"I think it’s great that we have one in Heber now," Hicken said. "It’s helpful because you can be around other people that have been through it too, You can laugh together about it, laugh about how you look and you can see a lot of them recovering and some that are worse off than you are."

For Alice, the abrupt effects of chemotherapy were helped by the program.

"All of a sudden you don’t have any hair, you don’t have any eyelashes, and I realized it was important for me to look good. It (the program) was good to help me get through it. I didn’t want to put myself in a hole. I just think it’s good if you put on your best face — it helps you feel better."

Alice credited the program for helping her get through her health trials.

"If people can look better, they can feel better," she said. "I think the main thing is, it gives you hope that there’s an end to this and it will be better again. Maybe I saw myself in fuzzy eyes; I didn’t see myself as this wasted person. Even though I talk about my cancer and people knew I had cancer, I thought it got me through it. I still wear a wig because my hair still hasn’t come back all the way, but I’m glad I’m alive."

Heber resident, Joy Clark, is currently recovering from cancer and recently went through the program in Heber. She also felt that the best part of the program was the chance to talk with others who have gone through similar experiences.

"It helps to talk with someone who has experienced it right from the horse’s mouth. You read books but it’s not the same as actually talking to someone that’s going through it," Clark said.

The "Look Good Feel Better" program in Heber meets the second Thursday of each month at the Heber Valley Medical Center from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Anyone interested in attending should call 800-234-0533 and press option 3. If the times do not work for individuals, the program times may be flexible.


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