Cancer patients boost self-esteem at hospital salons

 

Baltimore, Maryland, USA

With thinning brown hair and nearly invisible eyebrows, Margaret Fisher sits her frail frame down in the salon chair.

She received a diagnosis of Stage IV pancreatic cancer almost two years ago and has undergone 18 radiation treatments and six rounds of chemotherapy since. A hairstylist places a wig on Fisher's head and draws eyebrows on her bare face. Fisher, 63, looks in the mirror and smiles.

Such smiles are common at the Image Recovery Center, a beauty salon inside the Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center in Baltimore, Md. In this small, out-of-the-way room, cosmetologists specialize in assisting cancer patients who lose their hair, experience changes to their skin or have breasts surgically removed.

Self-image's effect on health and recovery is a topic filled with anecdotal evidence but few data. Nonetheless, doctors and nurses are finding that paying attention to what might be seen as superficial concerns — hair and makeup — has a positive effect on patients, with beauty regimes being bright spots in what can be a dreary journey through radiation and other therapies. Because of these perceived benefits, programs focused on cosmetic solutions are spreading.

Andrew Thompson, who teaches clinical psychology at the University of Sheffield in England, does research on the ways people adjust to what he calls "appearance-altering conditions." Exploring patients' psychological reactions, he suggests, may lead to interventions that can ease their distress.

The Image Recovery Center takes a concrete approach to image problems, as does the Look Good . . . Feel Better program of the American Cancer Society. In 2002 the program released findings of a survey showing that "86 percent of women cancer patients said that looking good helps them feel better and gives them more confidence to cope with their disease."

"I've heard patients say, 'I absolutely feel ugly. I don't want to look at myself. When I look in the mirror I don't see the same person,' " said Marianne Kelly, who founded the first Image Recovery Center 19 years ago at Baltimore's Union Memorial Hospital.

Salons throughout the world are offering more and more services tailored to those struggling with the effects of cancer. Hospitals are forming partnerships with local salons to serve their patients. Wig salons are tailoring their services.

The Look Good . . . Feel Better program offers free monthly sessions in most Washington area hospitals. The group sessions offer cancer patients beauty techniques, videos and online tips. The nationwide program has volunteer hairstylists, cosmetologists, wigmakers, etc., who make periodic appearances.

Kelly is a licensed cosmetologist, but she came to the idea of her program in a personal way. No stranger to cancer — as a child she lost a sister to leukemia and then saw her own daughter develop the disease, from which she recovered — Kelly learned that she had a brain tumor soon after her daughter fell ill.

After 15 hours of brain surgery, she awoke to face 18 frustrating months of rehabilitation, relearning how to walk and feed herself. It was the changes in her looks, however, that troubled Kelly the most.

"I had always been very particular about my appearance," Kelly said. Suddenly, she felt forced to find ways to cover her baldness and deal with the acne on her face.

"What I discovered was there was more to healing than medicine," Kelly said. "Feeling good about yourself played a very big role in my recovery."

That's how Kelly began to envision a one-stop shop to counter the disfiguring effects of medical treatments. She began by volunteering at Union Memorial in 1994, pushing her cart of cosmetics from room to room, offering free makeovers and talking to patients about the physical changes they were facing.

As time went on, her volunteering morphed into a business and she was providing a whole menu of patient-client services — facials, wig cleaning and styling, eyebrow tinting — at several Baltimore area hospitals. In 2001, she opened an Image Recovery Center, as her business came to be known, at Johns Hopkins.

Seventeen such centers are operating in hospitals across the United States now. Three more are scheduled to open by the end of 2013. Kelly and her husband set up the facilities, designing the centers and hiring and training the staff. The centers offer shaving of the balding head, facials and manicures at prices comparable to those of moderately priced salons. They also sell custom-made wigs, hats, scarves and breast compression garments.

Kelly says she often hears clients say, "I can have cancer, and look this good?"

"Helping the patients to resolve some of the appearance issues that they're dealing with enhances the recovery, in that they feel positive. It helps their self-esteem," Kelly said.

There is another reason to keep up appearances during chemotherapy: An altered appearance can identify someone as a "person with cancer," according to Diana Harcourt and Hannah Frith in the July 2008 Journal of Health Psychology.

Debra Fruehling, the principal technical trainer at BAE Systems, was given a diagnosis of breast cancer in 2011. Since then, she has received dozens of chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

Fruehling, of Indian Head, Md., did not want some colleagues to know of her condition because she didn't want them to deal with her differently at work. Fruehling wanted a wig, but she refused to go to a normal wig shop because she didn't want to show her bald head. She went instead to the Image Recovery Center at Johns Hopkins.

"You don't know how it hurts to look in the mirror and see yourself bald," Fruehling, 47, said. "It's hard. And to know that all I got to do is grab this great-looking wig and put it on and I fixed that — it takes stress away. And stress is the enemy to getting better."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions