Thursday, April 10, 2014

Trying to ...Look Good and Feel Better

I am not a girly girl. I've never been. I like some girl things. I dislike pink. Hence my being gifted 3 beautiful daughters. I do wear makeup- just not much. I've always thought there's too much more to be done than stand in front of a mirror looking at myself, covering everything up with makeup.  I would begrudgingly put a little extra effort in for date nights and outings. I will fully admit that I was comfortable enough in my own skin to generally just throw on some mascara and call it good. Maybe some eyeshadow and eyeliner for the big nights. And some tinted moisturizer and lipstick if there might be pictures.

When I started in chemo, my friend Lani took me to get a wig and brought me bags of moisturizers and gentle soaps and an eyebrow pencil. When the last of my eyelashes fell out- I was sad. It was hard enough weeks before when they thinned to the point of a big bald spot in the middle of my lid. Not exactly combover material. The eyebrows thinned and although one of the most famous women of all time- Mona Lisa will forever be missing eyebrows- that is also one of the main issues folks take with her image.

I've never thought Mona Lisa to be particularly inspiring. There is just something about eyebrows that adds expression, adds character. It adds definition. I started struggling with my own lack of definition. A mutant friend recommended the American Cancer Society's Look Good Feel Better program. She said it was really helpful since it addressed many of the new problems from chemo- drier skin, hair loss, acne. Plus- she told- me- you get one hell of a goodie bag! It's worth it- Go!

So the next round of chemo- when the American Cancer Society representative came around- I asked about it. She had me fill out a form and said someone would contact me to schedule. Sure enough- I was wandering around Walmart before Christmas when the call came.  The earliest appointment they had was at the end of January- which at the time seemed an eternity away. 

Fortunately an ACS representative called to remind me the week before- because as many things do these days- it had fallen off my radar. I had been through a few chemos yet still sported enough eyelashes and eyebrow hairs to blend in. But I knew their days were numbered and I needed some quality instruction on the matter. 

I wasn't sure what to expect. When I got to the room I was the only one there with 3 volunteers. One was a cancer survivor and two were make up specialists of some sort. Don't ask me to categorize further- it won't happen. We made small talk while we waited for the room to fill. I was surprised that it was only me and one other lady there- especially since I had to wait a couple months- but who knows. There were supposed to be more ladies there- but I'm sure that's a problem with scheduling for cancer patients- we're a fairly unreliable bunch. 

We watched a short film about the program and learned why we were there. If there had been a quiz- I would have been a star student- because I knew why we were there. The other lady there was fairly new to the chemo train. I knew this 1) because she still had hair and 2) she came full made up. I do normally put a bit of make up on when I go out- but I was going to a session where they were going to teach me how to put make up on- why show up with a painted canvas? Yep- I'm a star student. 

Then we got to unpack the bag of goodies before us. I'll admit- this was pretty exciting. It was a toiletry bag full of the supplies needed to turn my blank canvas into something a little more colorful. And all of it was mine to keep. All of the supplies are generously donated by local retailers and supplemented by the American Cancer Society. Like most non-profits- ACS is careful to partner with various organizations without specifically endorsing any. The cosmetic art supplies reflected these eclectic partnerships. 

The volunteers seemed pleased with the supplies and mentioned they really never know what they are going to have to work with. Make up is such a personal thing, sometimes they have to make do with less than optimal shades and supplies. But seeing as I was more there for the technique instruction- I wasn't bothered by the supplies generously supplied. It's way more than I have on my palette at home!  

We started the instruction and went over everything from moisture and sunscreen to the finer points of contouring and eyebrow shaping. This was the big reason I was there. I've always had plenty o eyebrows. More than enough to go around. Sometimes too much to the point of having parts of them professionally removed. Although I do not miss that- I do miss the particular definition they provided my brow.  The lady helping me was a personal stylist who volunteers her time because she enjoys helping women feel better by helping them look better. This is essentially the mission of Look Good Feel Better.  I can talk til I'm blue in the face about natural beauty and working with what you've got- but sometimes what you get isn't exactly confidence inspiring. 

When you are on chemo you deal with the side effects. At first you are taken aback by the more severe ones and as you learn to deal with those- you have to deal with the other fun side effects. My skin is always dry. Yet it breaks out like crazy after chemo- due to the steroids given to prevent nausea and allergic reactions. My eyes are puffy. Or maybe they seem puffy because my long thick lashes are no longer there to hide them. I already pointed out the finer problems with being a naked mole rat. But my skin tone has changed. It's not healthy or radiant. It has taken on that sick pallor that chemo patients get to varying degrees. 

I will admit I have been fairly low maintenance and lucky when it comes to complexion issues and this is really the first time I've had to deal with this or cared to. It does give me a healthy appreciation for why cosmetics are such a huge industry. I also hate that I need to rely on them to feel better. I am me, but I don't feel like I look good. I feel washed out and sick. I  don't generally miss having to fuss with my hair. What time I save not bothering with hair is now meticulously appropriated to evening out my facial canvas before recreating eyebrows. None of the make up specialists had any good advice on what to do about missing eyelashes- other than being a little more generous with eyeliner. And wear more lipstick so it draws attention away from your eyes. 

Although I guess people can see what I am saying through my lips as easily as reading my emotion in my eyes- but it is one additional connection lost. I find people do make eye contact less with me. Whether real or perceived- it is what I feel. Maybe I look at them less because I don't feel like I look good. By drawing in my eyes, perhaps too I can draw more people in. I never wanted to rely on make up to create me. But me is not chemo Jen- even though it is for now.  I appreciate the tools and the mission of the Look Good Feel Better program. It is about confidence and self image and those change dramatically during treatment. And although for many, the cancer treatment effects are temporary- for some they are not.  So perhaps not all cosmetics are to hide flaws, personality or physical- but a way to artfully present the way you want to be seen despite circumstances that don't allow it. For some they want to be sexy, or have flawless complexion, for others it's just enhancing their features. For me it's now a way to project myself as healthy. Sometimes that's just what you have to do to Feel Better. 

For more information on this great program- Look Good, Feel Better go to

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Lily Kay Monkey

Lily Kay Monkey
November 2008 Photographed by Shelley Detton (7 Layer Studio)