By Shayna Wiwierski
It’s said that two out of five Canadians are estimated to be diagnosed with cancer during their lifetimes. That works out to roughly 41 per cent of women and 46 per cent of men. There are many charitable organizations out there that help with the physical aspect of the disease, but what about how the patients feel?
How a woman looks is closely linked to their emotional wellbeing. As a result, Look Good Feel Better (LGFB) Canada is the nation’s only charitable cancer program dedicated to empowering women to manage the appearance-related effects of cancer and its treatment. Created from the belief that if a woman with cancer looks good, she’ll feel better and be empowered to face her illness with greater confidence.
“When a woman loses her hair, it can be so traumatic for them,” says Sherry Abbott, executive director of LGBF Canada and a 25-year cancer survivor. “Some women tell us that hair loss is more dramatic than their cancer diagnosis. When I first started to lose my hair, I did the best I could; I cut it short, styled it differently. Then I lost my brows and then the definition in my face and when my lashes fell out, I thought it was too much.”
LGFB holds free two-hour hands-on workshops for those with cancer. In each workshop, participants are given a box of beauty products based on their skin tone (light, medium, or dark), and then learn how to practice good cosmetic hygiene, recreate the look of lost brows or lashes, what they can expect from hair loss, how to choose the right wig for them, and many other different things to enhance their appearance.
The program is offered at over 100 cancer care facilities and hospitals across the country, and since it’s inception, is estimated to have helped hundreds of thousands of women across Canada. But, it’s much more than just applying and learning about makeup, the program deals with the psychosocial aspects of cancer.
“A lot of women come in hesitant with the fear of the unknown and think ‘why am I here to learn about makeup?’ It’s not about the makeup, it’s about a supporting environment and to meet other women, and they soon realize that its more than just about makeup. It’s like a makeover for the soul,” says Abbott, who also runs a blog on the foundation’s sister site, facingcancer.ca.
LGFB is currently present in 20 countries around the world, with the flagship arm of the organization, the U.S. LGFB, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Collectively, they have provided the workshop to over 100,000 women around the world. In Canada, the program is the cosmetic industry’s charity of choice and the Canadian Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association (CCTFA) Foundation was established to deliver the program.
Each kit contains a chemo cap (designed to catch hair as it falls out), as well as multiple products from leading drugstore and prestige brands, including MAC Cosmetics, Estee Lauder, Clinique, Rimmel London, Mary Kay, and much more. The professional salon industry has also been a huge supporter of the program, donating time and products to the 11,000 kits are packed annually at a trade value of $3 million worth of products (over $4 million in retail dollars). All the products in the kit are gentle and don’t cause chemical reaction or additives that can change skin.
“Our program is completely non-medical, it doesn’t interfere with women’s treatment in any way. We get glowing remarks from cancer centres, and the oncology teams realize it’s a bright spot in a woman’s journey. If nothing more, they get some tender loving care and see others and say ‘if she can do it, I can do it’. We often see women exchanging names and numbers, and it’s so heartwarming.”
When it comes down to it, beauty is much more than skin deep. Participants learn how to put their best self forward and to take back some of the control that they lost while going through treatment.
“It makes them feel like they can still be a woman and feel pretty. We aren’t there to make them glamorous. We are there to make them look and feel like themselves.”
For more information on Look Good Feel Better Canada, and to find a workshop near you, visit them online at LGFB.ca.