Five years ago in December, I was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. I was 21 years old. I will spare you the gory details of what ensued during my year of chemotherapy treatments, but long story short: it sucked.
As an already self-conscious young woman, the worst part about the ordeal was coping with my new physical appearance. I was totally bald, my eyebrows and eyelashes had only a few sad hairs hanging on, and some days, my skin was an icky shade of pale green. In the beginning, it was a small miracle if my parents could get me to leave the house, even if it was just to go see a movie. That's where Look Good Feel Better came in.
A couple of weeks after I started chemo, my doctor referred me to the program, which was having a meeting in a local hospital. I'm pretty sure I rolled my eyes and claimed that there was no way I was going to any sort of support group, but alas, I went. (Full disclosure: I think I rolled my eyes again when I got there.)
The 25-year-old program has chapters in every state across the country, and holds sessions in 2,800 facilities—mostly hospitals and cancer centers—nationwide. Louanne Roark, an Executive Director at Look Good Feel Better, told me that 50,000 women a year benefit from the program and its teachings. There are 16,000 workshops a year with over 6,000 trained volunteers leading the way, many of whom are beauty professionals.
The organization is essentially kept alive by the beauty industry: $12 million worth of products are donated every year, from mass-market brands like P&G and L'Oréal, to luxury labels like Chanel and Dior. The cosmetics industry also raises $2 million a year to fund the workshops.
Upon arrival at a LGFB meeting, each attendee is given a bag heaping with products—super nice products, at that. I remember feeling a bit overwhelmed, considering I wasn't a huge makeup wearer at the time, but we were given a step-by-step tutorial (and take-home guide) to help us through the beautification process.
Since a cancer patient's appearance issues are very unique, the instructors are sure to give plenty of one-on-one attention, and are quite skilled in their craft. One such instructor, who was recently appointed as National Ambassador to the Look Good Feel Better organization, is Lana Horochowski, the makeup artist of Mad Men. "I experience firsthand—every day—how makeup can transform," she told me in an e-mail. "To be able to use it to transform women who are enduring such hardship, to help them not only look but feel beautiful and confident for the first time in a long time, is such a special opportunity."
Some of the tricks I learned during my hours at LGFB are still some of my favorites to use every day, like lining your inner top eyelid to create the appearance of thicker lashes. Hair loss was definitely my biggest beauty struggle, and Horochowski notices the same sentiment in many of her patients—most notably the eyelashes and eyebrows. "They really define the face. When they're gone, women lose that definition. They don't look like themselves anymore."
With a bit of practice (and a lot of patience) even the most dramatic changes can be amended. Horochowski's top tips are some that I benefitted from during my time as a patient as well. "I like to use the combo of eyebrow pencils and shadow to draw in brows. I find that it makes the brow look more natural," she said. "Also a smokier eye shadow or liner can help make the eyes pop and really bring back some definition. I am definitely an eye makeup girl!"
The LGFB organization will always hold a place in my heart since it helped me to feel beautiful during one of the most difficult phases of my life. Horochowski has a similar story: "I lost my aunt to cancer. She was one of my favorite people in the entire world. She always put so much emphasis on appearance and during treatment, when she lost control of that—when she didn't recognize herself anymore—she began to give up. Anything I can do to use my expertise and product knowledge to prevent that from happening to someone else, I'll do."
With all of the marketing madness that surrounds Breast Cancer Awareness Month these days, it can be tough to tell which organizations are legit enough donate to, but as someone who's benefitted greatly from the program, I give Look Good Feel Better my survivor seal of approval.