NEW YORK--Ten women, some of them in wigs, some without eyebrows or eyelashes, sat around a conference table spread with make-up. They were at a free "Improve Your Appearance" clinic at Cancer Care, Inc., where a cosmetician was demonstrating how make-up can improve the special beauty problems that come with chemotherapy.
The women watched intently as cosmetician Kathy Pomerance used a brush and powder to give a woman named Jeanette natural looking eyebrows. Jeanette was pleased. "They don't have experience with someone like me at the department stores," she said. "They just make you, you know, Joan Crawford eyebrows."
Looking normal while undergoing treatment is one of the problems cancer patients face, said Carolyn Messner, ACSW, BCD, director of education and training at Cancer Care. The agency was founded in 1944 to help cancer patients and their families cope with the impact of cancer. Today it is the largest agency in the country providing professional full-time social services as well as financial aid to cancer patients.
"Cancer patients, in general, are much more functional than they were 10 or 20 years ago. They are able to go back to work full time and manage their family responsibilities," Ms. Messner said. "They have to be able to return to their social roles and the workplace looking like they have always looked. Make-up allows them to look like themselves--sometimes even better."
Cosmeticians, like hairdressers, get to hear their clients' innermost thoughts and feelings. "Working with the youngest women is the hardest," Ms. Pomerance said. "Their lives and their families' lives are changed so radically, so early."
But none of the women, whatever their age, appear bitter," said Ms. Pomerance, a freelance make-up artist who specializes in paramedical camouflage (cosmetics for burn and accident victims) and does make-up at a Manhattan boutique for women who have had mastectomies. "What's gratifying is their enthusiasm. It's fun and exciting to see them looking healthier and feeling prettier," she said.
Ms. Pomerance was also enthusiastic as she talked to the women at the Cancer Care clinic. "Something else to think about when you're going through chemo is bright colors. Think bright! Don't be afraid to use color because it will counteract sallowness."