Marilyn Monroe believed that with the right pair of shoes, a woman could conquer the world. Surely then, if you gave a woman the tools to take back her physical appearance after it had been marred by cancer treatment, she would be able to conquer the low self esteem it brings.

Of all the physical effects cancer treatment has on the body, hair loss must be the most well known. Global nonprofit organisation Look Good, Feel Better however address the other lesser known symptoms, such as dry skin, adult acne, pigmentation marks, brittle, discoloured nails and watery eyes with equal importance. This places the control and confidence back in the hands of these women, as even the most common one finds them ill prepared.

“Everyone knows that women undergoing cancer treatment may lose their hair, but to a cancer patient it can be very alarming when she finds clumps of hair on her pillow or in her hands while showering. She may also not know that it could be a different colour or texture when it grows back,” says Margaret Hewson, programme director of Look Good, Feel Better South Africa.

That’s why this organisation hosts free monthly and bimonthly workshops in over 38 private and public hospitals in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Pietermaritzburg, Bloemfontein and Durban. Women actively undergoing cancer treatment receive a personal invitation from a hospital staff member to a two-hour workshop where they will receive a bag with makeup and skin care products suited to their now sensitive skin. They are equipped with information on how to address the effects of the treatment and face the world with confidence.

“When you see the ladies come into the venue at first they look very isolated. They sit by themselves and don’t speak to anyone – just another doctor’s card. As the workshop progresses you can see them interacting and laughing over tea – forgetting that they came in wearing wigs. They meet other women with the same challenges and difficulties. They leave with confidence and a new support system.”

In order to bring this change about, over 250 volunteers attend training on an annual basis. They need to be able to deal with the visible, as well as the invisible side effects. And they need to know when to fade into the background as the women gain confidence in applying their own makeup.

“Volunteers are very special women who dedicate their time and energy to help these ladies once a month. If lady gets angry and throws lipstick across the table they need to understand that it has nothing to do with the lipstick, but rather pent up emotions from being diagnosed with caner.”

Thus far Look Good, Feel Better have helped more than 22500 South African men and women in this way. Requests from other hospitals and cities are streaming in, but projects like this require a lot of time and man power.

“The cosmetic houses are extremely generous with products and donations, but we also have storage, travel, accommodation, workshop material and volunteer needs. These things enable us support women and men with all cancers – addressing their social and emotional needs and wellbeing. It’s like a makover for the spirit, and that is a beautiful thing.”

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About the Author

Brent Lindeque is the founder and editor in charge at Good Things Guy.

Recognised as one of the Mail and Guardian’s Top 200 Young South African’s as well as a Primedia LeadSA Hero, Brent is a change maker, thought leader, radio host, foodie, vlogger, writer and all round good guy.

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