Fri, Dec 1, 2017 at 04:34 PM
Support group makes a big difference for local cancer survivors
Natasha Berry cannot speak of her cancer without a flow of tears. Her emotions are as raw now as the day she was hit with the diagnosis seven months ago. She discovered a lump one day and was at her doctor’s office the next, starting a series of one test after another.
“The chaos began,” she recalled, drying tears that refused to stop. “There’s a lot of information. It’s just overwhelming.”
Then it was confirmed as breast cancer, specifically invasive ductile carcinoma. Knowing was somewhat of a relief to Berry.
“I felt better after I got a diagnosis,” she said. “Waiting is what’s horrible. I just had a bad feeling about it from the start. For the first three months all I did was cry.”
She did find comfort, though, from being around people who were all-too familiar with the disease. Sitting in the waiting area of the Marshall Cancer Care Center, they shared their stories and encouraged each other.
“It becomes a sisterhood in a way,” said the 35-year-old from Crossville.
“I can’t say enough about the Cancer Center,” Berry said. “They’ve been great, from the doctors to the volunteers.”
Feeling attractive is part of healing
The staff not only treated her cancer, they also helped her feel attractive again. After Berry finished chemotherapy that stole her hair, eyebrows and lashes, the Cancer Center staff invited her to a session of Look Good Feel Better, a national program to help women overcome the effects of treatment on their appearance.
“It was wonderful,” she said. “I never had an eyebrow issue so I didn’t know how to do that. It was really fun.”
The Look Good Feel Better program began in 1989 as a joint effort by the Personal Care Products Council, a charitable organization supported by the cosmetic industry, the American Cancer Society (ACS) and the Professional Beauty Association (or PBA), a national organization that represents hairstylists, wig experts, estheticians, makeup artists and other professionals in the cosmetic industry.
Beth Rosson, owner of the Merle Norman studio in Albertville, leads the bi-monthly program at the Cancer Center. She has been doing it for 11 years, well before the new facility was built. When her father was dying of cancer, Rosson recalls that Shepherd’s Cove Hospice was so good to him it made her want to volunteer. That’s how she found out the American Cancer Society and the Cancer Center were looking for a licensed cosmetologist to facilitate local Look Good Feel Better events. She now calls it divine intervention. Rosson volunteered and says she gets as much as she gives.
“It actually has been more therapeutic for me,” she says. “These women gave me hope when I had lost hope with cancer. It helps me more than them.”
Rosson said sessions start out with women introducing themselves and sharing their diagnosis and treatment experience. She then shows women how to brighten themselves up.
“How to draw on eyebrows is the biggest thing,” she said. “Even those who never wear make-up enjoy it. We have a good time.”
Free make-up kit and more
Everyone who attends is given a make-up kit put together by the ACS and donated by the cosmetic industry. Each kit – containing make-up from companies such as Chanel, Estee Lauder and Mary Kay – is valued at up to $350. The Cancer Center shares items that have been donated for patients, such as crocheted hats and prayer blankets. Wigs are available to try on and take home, and Rosson demonstrates how to tie scarfs and make head-wraps from T-shirts.
“We get silly and joke around,” she said “You can see the look of relief on their faces.
Look Good Feel Better is open to any woman who has suffered from cancer – regardless of where they received their treatment.
“Look Good Feel Better is for any female cancer survivor (not just breast cancer) who has gone or is going through cancer treatment,” said Cindy Sparkman, director of the Marshall Cancer Care Center. “It is designed to improve their self-confidence during a time when they don’t feel like themselves. Hair loss and skin changes can affect patients with all kinds of cancer but can be particularly traumatic for breast cancer patients who may also have had a mastectomy and feel like they have lost all of the things that made them feel feminine and beautiful.”
In July, Berry finished chemotherapy. She had a lumpectomy in August and finished six weeks of radiation treatments in mid-October. She will take Tamoxifen for the next five years to reduce the chance of cancer coming back.
“At this point, it’s just trying to find a new normal,” she said.
To sign up for a Look Good Feel Better session, call Pam Veal at 256-894-6779.