Published on September 19th, 2012 | by Karin Jenkins0
Look Good…Feel Better
September is National Leukemia Awareness month. Until my niece, Alex, posted that on my Facebook page a few days ago, I had no idea. Ironically, a few weeks ago my father was diagnosed with Leukemia. As he lies in a hospital bed, receiving chemotherapy and fighting the fight of his life, I wondered what I could do to help this man that I love so much.
In 1999, my husband and I became certified volunteers for the American Cancer Society’s program called “Look Good…Feel Better.” We worked every month in the Oncology Department of our local hospital.
Our job was to help female cancer patients improve their appearance and self- image by teaching them hands-on beauty techniques to manage the appearance from the effects of chemotherapy and radiation.
Basically, hair loss and wig care, headscarves and turbans, skin care, makeup application and nail care.
Certified beauty professionals lead small groups – usually 6 to 10 women – through a practical hands-on experience. Each woman gets a free makeup kit full of lots of wonderful, useful makeup and skin care products to use during and after the workshop.
This program is free, non-medical, and salon and product neutral. Volunteers and program participants do not promote any cosmetic product line or manufacturer and all cosmetics used in this program have been donated.
What always seemed to impress me the most was the drastic change in the women from the start of the workshop to the end. Not just in their physical appearance, but also more importantly, in their mental state.
They would leave the session happy and smiling and ready to take on the world again. They were able to talk to other women going through the same thing and develop their own support system with new friends. They gained knowledge and control over their appearance and it helped them to look and feel better during this challenging time in their lives.
I will give you more information about this program for women, but first I want to go back to my dad.
My husband and I had worked for years with this program, but it was always just for women. It made me start to think – surely there must be help for men going through this same type of situation.
Through chemo and radiation, they too would have to deal with hair loss and changes in their skin and nails. I knew what to do in a workshop program with women, I was certified to give them the 2-hour, 12-step program, but this is my first time to have a family member, living it every day. I wanted to know everything I could do to help my dad through every moment of this illness.
I called the National Cancer Information Center at (800) 227-2345 and talked to a very kind and helpful representative. I explained my personal situation and she immediately put information in the mail to me.
She sent me brochures and a book called, “Caring for the Patient with Cancer at Home.” All the materials were free of charge from the American Cancer Society.
She answered all the questions I had up to that point and told me to call anytime for more help. I went to the national website www.lookgoodfeelbetter.org to help me find a LGFB program closest to where my dad lives in New Port Richey, Florida. The closest was in Tampa, but no information on this program was for men.
If you go to this website, you will see this program is offered in every state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. They also offer teen & Spanish programs as well as self-help mailer kits, on-line support and a 24- hour hotline service.
I am happy to report I have discovered information for the LGFB program for men, and I would like to share a few helpful tips that you might be able to use yourself or for a special man in your life.
SKIN: Chemotherapy and radiation can change your skin – make it dry, itchy, flaky or irritated. A few simple steps in the morning and night can help you look and feel healthier.
1) Wash. Use a water-based liquid face cleanser or gentle soap for sensitive skin. Wash with warm – (NOT hot) water. Don’t rub your skin or use a granular scrub.
2) Shave: During treatment, when you are at a risk for infection and bleeding, your doctor may suggest you switch to an electric razor to prevent cuts.
3) Smooth: to reduce stinging, let your skin rest a bit before applying other products. To help relieve dry, flaky skin, dampen a cotton pad with alcohol-free toner and gently swab the skin. Apply a small amount of moisturizer on cheeks, forehead, chin and anywhere else where your skin feels dry.
4) Protect: Chemotherapy can cause sun-exposure related skin reactions. Moisturizing sunscreens are a must to help protect your sensitive skin. Doctors warn against tanning during treatment, so if a tanned look is important to you – ask your doctor if you can use a men’s self-tanning cream or bronzer.
5) Enhance: Use a concealer to hide facial discolorations and dark circles under the eyes. Pale or sallow skin can be side effects of treatment, but you can easily cover imperfections with a concealer the same color as your skin tone or a tinted moisturizer can work just as well and probably easier to apply. Since this is a foreign concept to most men – go to any department store makeup counter, an Esthetician that sells cosmetics (often times found at a plastic surgeon’s office) or a female friend for help with choosing the right product and application.
HAIR: Some chemotherapy drugs can cause temporary hair loss.
1) Always comb your hair gently and use a mild shampoo. Even if you lose all of your hair – still shampoo your scalp as if the hair was still there. It will help your scalp from flaking, itching and becoming more sensitive.
2) Cover: There are lots of hat and cap styles to choose from today. If hair loss really bothers you – there are hair prosthesis that can cover bald spots. As hair starts to grow back, these can be phased out.
3) Counteract: When eyebrows are thinning, you can use a brow pencil or brow gel or brush on brow to help smooth, control and fill the brow line. This is a little harder to do and look natural on men sometimes, so you might also try wearing eyeglasses with heavy frames to add definition to the area – no prescription required.
BODY: During chemotherapy, radiation or hormone therapy, your body is working overtime to fight cancer. There are some things you can do to help cope with the impact.
1) Exercise: The right workout can reduce stress, increase energy and help control potential weight gain. However, speak to your doctor and listen to your body. Don’t go overboard! When platelet counts are low, avoid high-risk sports to prevent bleeding from injuries or rough contact.
2) Moderation: If you smoke – make an effort to quit. If you drink – limit consumption – and follow any alcohol restrictions on your medications. Allow adequate time for rest and don’t work 24/7. Don’t think having cancer will squelch your career – according to research, most cancer survivors keep pace on the job. Keeping up a normal routine provides stability.
3) TLC: You may notice your hands and feet are dry or cracked or your nails feel brittle. Most often a bit of TLC can help correct your problem. Keep your feet cool, dry and clean. Don’t use a pumice or scrub too harshly. Use nail clippers with care, so you don’t cut the skin. Finally, good oral hygiene is also important during treatment. You should ask your dentist for more information on dental and oral care.
Remember that knowledge is power. Take notes, bring written questions to your appointments and seek out reliable cancer information to help you make informed decisions about your treatment and care.
Lance Armstrong said of his cancer experience, “I was scared and confused. Then I decided to learn as much as I could about the illness and fight for my life.”
As the Leukemia and Lymphoma President and CEO, John Walter says, “Awareness Month is an opportunity to increase the public’s understanding of blood cancers and to encourage people to support the funding of research to find cures and educational programs to help patients have the best possible outcomes throughout their cancer experience.”
I need my dad and every other person out there to learn as much as you can and do everything you can to fight back and win!