For a year after cancer I adopted the esteemed vogue ’Roald-Dahl-Witch-meets-Worzel-Gummidge’. With holey clothes and birds-nest hair, the lack of care I took over my appearance became almost a challenge. It had all begun with my skin: peeling off in unsightly specks from my face and scalp. My blackened toes flaked the most, but I kept those well-hidden.
The GP claimed it would clear up and I was packed on my way. I presumed I couldn’t be helped. So while I waited for my skin to improve, I gave up on the whole appearance ‘thing’. I was certainly far too embarrassed to go to the hairdressers. I might as well be comfortable in my own body and accept it for what it was.
But I wasn’t really comfortable. How could I be when my body had betrayed me so spectacularly? It had let the cancer in, had harboured its secret for years. How had it let me down so badly? I began to see my body as separate from myself – a sly Machiavellian waiting to do me in.
While I could control it physically, superficially, it seemed I had little control over the important things. Why should I care about the appearance of a body that hastened my very demise? And it felt so decrepit and vulnerable; after all the drugs, treatments, pills, lotions and ointments, I’d just had enough. I didn’t want to mess with it anymore. I wanted to let it be.
I'd dismissed hair, skin, and nails as inconsequential, or just a vain preoccupation. I felt guilty about raising them with my medical team - that they had more important things to attend to. In the great scheme of things my looks didn’t matter.
I’d forgotten that looking good makes you feel good.
And that's where Look Good, Feel Better comes in. They're a fantastic charity offering free workshops on skincare and make-up, all run by experienced professionals. They cater for those with cancer and you can take part up to one year after treatment has ended. You spend a couple of hours with them exploring how to use make-up to your advantage; how to look after your skin; and even how to shape eyebrows.
I attended a session in my local hospital. With other women in the cancer-boat, it was such an uplifting atmosphere. They give everyone a huge bag jam-packed with beauty products, teaching you how to use the weird and wonderful lotions and potions.
Alas, I still can't draw eyeliner straight, but I learnt so much about treating my skin better, how essential it is to boost the immunity and protect from germs, and most importantly, I felt fantastic afterwards.
Taking control of my appearance became the start of feeling in control of my body again.
So I dropped my flakey skin into conversation with my lovely, new GP. She could see it was getting me down. Within minutes I had a diagnosis of seborrheic dermatitis. It is quite common in those with immune system problems associated with chemo. After a few weeks of using a different shampoo, it was cured. Now I have no excuse to avoid the hairdressers. And I feel so much better.
I attended a Look Good Feel Better and I loved the atmosphere. It was so nice to spend the afternoon with other women in my situation. It felt a lot less isolating. I would thoroughly recommend attending a workshop x
Totally agree - Look Good Feel Better is a MUST. And you continue the good work long afterwards because the goodies in the goody-bag last for months! Incidentally, I was told by a dermatologist at my cancer hospital that my horrendous skin was "due to your age". A French friend told me to go to a French hospital when I was on holiday .... and they told me it was all due to Tamoxifen. Gave me products that French hospitals prescribe - and my skin cleared up miraculously. So I wrote about what worked on aftercancers.com if anyone's interested.