A dozen women filled the halls of Providence Medford Medical Center with laughter, and passersby would have been hard-pressed to believe many of those in the room had endured or were still facing a battle for their very lives.
The women varied in their ages and the cancers they faced. Some had already finished treatment, others were just beginning, and still others were smack-dab in the middle of chemotherapy and surgeries.
But on Monday, the American Cancer Society’s “Look Good, Feel Better” program offered them common ground and a place to find hope and crack jokes as they sampled makeup kits, tried on wigs and got pointers about looking their best.
Virginia Hudson, a “wig master” with Ashland’s Wigs by Design shop, worked alongside local barber and esthetician Charla Tauriainen. Topics included skin care for sensitive chemo-ravaged skin and how to care for thinning hair.
Cut it short, but don’t shave it and don’t leave it long, said Tauriainen, who owns a barber shop in Eagle Point.
Huddled around one large table, the women helped each other decipher the contents provided in the makeup kits, some teasing about having limited makeup skills before they were sick.
“If you didn’t already wear eyeliner before, don’t try to start now,” Tauriainen told the group. “Don’t want anyone poking their eyes out.”
The duo touched on infection and sanitation of makeup tools and how to create a natural look.
“Alright, now let’s talk about eyebrows!” declared Hudson.
“Yes, let’s,” chimed in attendee Barbara Hitzelberger.
Her head bald from chemo, Hitzelberger quickly tossed the head wrap she’d worn to the class. Diagnosed in May 2017 with breast cancer, Hitzelberger, 74, said makeup and hair techniques for her changing complexion and newly bald head have been challenging.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect, and I don’t want anybody to see my head, but it is what it is so I just came in, and it was actually very comfortable and inviting. It’s a really cool thing,” Hitzelberger said.
“It’s nice to be with everybody who’s kind of in the same boat or ones who have been there already. I thought I would be the only one who is still feeling so ill, but there are other girls dealing with the same thing.”
“I had no idea what to do for makeup," she added. "I’m not normally this pale. When I put my own foundation on, I just felt ridiculous in it, so I haven’t been wearing any at all. And I don’t think any of us know what to do about eyebrows. Those were kind of the first thing to go!”
Jacksonville resident Mary Venard smiled at her freshly made-up face and tried on a ginger-colored wig alongside her sister, Chris Fedor, visiting from Alabama.
Diagnosed with eight tumors in her brain last Christmas, Venard welcomed the friendly atmosphere.
“She knew exactly which one, which color, how to place it … I think I need to go to her to see about my hair,” Venard said.
Eagle Point resident Myra Cam smiled as she tried on a salt-and-pepper colored wig.
“I don’t know what I think. I haven’t had hair since January!” she said with a laugh. “I tried on wigs when I first lost my hair and I couldn’t find one. I even went to the store where you buy them. I have a big head. I’ve just been wearing hats. I have a ton of hats now.”
Impressed with the fit of Cam’s wig, Hudson fluffed her bangs and told her, “Girlfriend, you need some more lipstick on those lips! You look gorgeous!”
Contending with pancreatic cancer since December 2016, Cam said initial treatments, surprisingly, caused minimal discomfort, while a new treatment had forced her to leave work. Monday's session, she said, was a good way “to realize that other people are going through the same thing.”
A dozen years past treatment and a mastectomy, Mary Golds offered praise for the monthly sessions and encouragement for those who joined her for the makeup and hair tips.
“I’ve been in this valley for 70 years. I always had my mammogram and never thought I would get breast cancer. One year, I got that phone call and the doctor said we need to have you come back in,” she told the group huddled around one giant table.
“So I had the surgery and complete chemo. My mastectomy was 19 years ago. I lost all my hair. It’s hard to go through, and I sure wish they had a program like this when I was going through it all. This is just really wonderful.
“I’m grateful for my faith and to be healthy," she added. "Because here I still am. ... I’m very grateful.”
Look Good, Feel Better sessions are offered monthly at hospitals in Medford and Grants Pass.
For information, see lookgoodfeelbetter.org or call the American Cancer Society in Medford at 541-779-6092.
— Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at firstname.lastname@example.org.