Program Focuses on How to 'Look Good Feel Better' During Cancer Treatment

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Advising a patient on the effects of their cancer treatment.
Advising a patient on the effects of their cancer treatment.

Look Good Feel Better (LGFB) is a program that has helped nearly 1 million women with cancer in the United States since it began in 1989. More than 2000 facilities host 15,000 LGFB workshops annually and another 150,000 patients and survivors are helped through LGFB's online and virtual services and support. Louanne Roark, executive director of the Look Good Feel Better Foundation of the Personal Care Products Council, explained what the program has to offer participants — men and teens, as well as women — undergoing cancer treatments to Bette Weinstein Kaplan, a contributing writer for Oncology Nurse Advisor.

Look Good Feel Better is designed to help women by giving them an effective and practical intervention during the course of cancer treatment at a time in which they begin to experience side effects of their treatment. Those side effects may be hair loss and/or changes in their skin (becomes dry, blotchy, and discolored). Some women may lose their eyebrows and eyelashes, which unexpectedly changes their look entirely.

Many women say the moment they begin to see the effects of their treatment is when they look in the mirror and do not recognize themselves. That is the point at which they acknowledge that they do look sick and they do have cancer. It is a moment of reckoning.

Offering a Respite

What Look Good Feel Better offers these women is what the organization describes as a “respite” during this stressful and discouraging time. The program involves group workshops, usually available in hospital environments, facilitated by trained and licensed hair stylists and cosmetologists who teach the women how to use different products to improve their physical appearance. The professionals who volunteer to work in the program complete the Look Good Feel Better certification program. They are well-prepared to deliver the program, and to anticipate what women who are experiencing cancer might need when they come into a workshop.

Group workshops The women who attend the workshops are able to be out and about despite their cancer. They might choose to participate in a workshop before or after a doctor visit or treatment, which is often held at the cancer center or treatment clinic. Typically 5 to 8 patients and 2 to 3 volunteers participate in each workshop. The participants and professionals spend 2 hours together.

One advantage of the program is that women have a chance to be with other women going through similar experiences and facing similar challenges during the course of their treatment. The workshop may be the only time they will come together during their treatment, and the camaraderie and community built into that workshop is a significant component of what the organization wants to bring to these women. In addition, workshop participants receive very practical guidance. Each woman is given a kit with skin care and cosmetic products, and they literally empty the bag and proceed to learn what the products are and how to use them to address their specific needs during cancer treatment.

Hair loss Approximately 45 minutes of the workshop is focused on hair loss. The women learn how to buy a wig, fit it, and take proper care of it. They also learn how to use alternatives to wigs, such as scarves, turbans, or combinations of those things to create a look they are comfortable with. The goal is for the woman to be able to look in the mirror and get back to recognizing herself, and to feel comfortable in her own skin again.

What an observer sees at the end of a workshop is women smiling, laughing, and having fun together. They exchange phone numbers and develop relationships within a community of other survivors.

Styling Each workshop includes a styling component presented in a video created with the expertise of stylist Stacy London of “What Not To Wear” fame. The video addresses issues such as weight gain or loss and how to choose and adjust clothing to cover and protect a chest or arm stent.

Ms London introduces the concept of color choices during chemotherapy, offering suggestions on how to adjust color choices to minimize the visual impact if the participant's skin is becoming discolored: for example, brighter colors work best. Ms London encourages women to be conscious of what colors work best with their skin, hair, and eye color, and to make adjustments in their choices as their skin tone changes.

Also participating in the program are celebrity makeup artist Carmindy and renowned hair stylist Oribe. The styling tips learned at a LGFB workshop are, of course, just as helpful after treatment is completed as well. 

Taking Back Control

Look Good Feel Better workshops offer a great deal of information while presenting an opportunity for women to enjoy the moment. Women are able to forget about their cancer for a couple of hours. Often participants are somewhat shy about taking off their wig or scarf or reticent to talk about what they are going through at the beginning of a program, but the entire dynamic changes 10 to 15 minutes into the workshop. As the women begin to relax, the volunteers draw them out and get them to engage with the others in the group. They begin to have fun and laugh, and the workshop becomes more of a gathering of friends.

Program participants tell the volunteers that the information they learned in the workshop helps them through their course of treatment. One reaction women often express at the conclusion of the workshop is, “Wow! I can't believe I look like this! I've got to call my husband. He's taking me out to dinner tonight!” The women often get a wonderful reaction from their loved ones, who are pleased that they attended the program and are feeling a much greater level of confidence and self-esteem as a result. 

That is the goal: for participants to feel good about themselves again and to be able to take control and get back to being the people they are.

Who Should Go and When

The normalcy element is one of the key areas that contributes to a positive outcome. This disease is so disruptive; it takes control out of a woman's hands. The hair loss and appearance changes rob women of the choice as to when and how to share information about their cancer with others. Look Good Feel Better returns that control to the women who participate in workshops so they get to decide when and how to tell someone they are ill. After a workshop, the woman knows what to do about how she looks. She can manage it, put it aside, and continue on, getting through and beyond treatment.

Therefore, Look Good Feel Better recommends that women attend a workshop when they first begin to notice appearance changes. They should not wait until they are so far along that their appearance has become a challenge for them. They need to learn early on what they can do to manage their appearance when they are just beginning to see hair loss and skin changes.

For teens A smaller-scale program designed for teenagers is available in 18 cancer centers around the country. The format mixes boys and girls together in a face-to-face workshop format with the boys at one table and the girls at another. These programs also provide online support.

Teen girls want to learn how to use makeup; teen boys want to learn how to correct dry or discolored skin and perhaps how to treat acne. The teen program is most successful when matched up with other programs offered by hospitals that treat teen patients. This age group is more receptive when oncology nurses can offer Look Good Feel Better along with other teen-oriented programs.

For men Although men undergoing cancer treatment prefer to avoid a group experience, they are still interested in understanding what their options are. Online delivery seems to be effective for them. The Look Good Feel Better website has a section just for men with appropriately targeted instructional videos. The focus is on skin care and how to combat issues such as shaving and dry skin during cancer treatment.

The videos offer tips on how to manage changes in their appearance. For example, a bronzing product can add some color to the face without actually being makeup, and concealers can subtly cover dark circles under the eyes. Eyebrows can be recreated using eyebrow product kits. Hair loss is not as significant an issue for men, and most would simply wear a hat. The men's section also includes fitness tips and exercise routines specifically for men. 

Tips For the Oncology Nurse

Oncology nurses are encouraged to make their patients aware of the LGFB program early on. One comment women will make when they are told that they have cancer and will need treatment is, “Oh my goodness. I could lose my hair! My appearance might change.” This program provides the oncology nurse with a tool for counseling patients. They are able to say to the patient, “Yes, you're having treatment, and these are some of the adverse effects you may experience. But we also have a program that can assist you with that.”

Look Good Feel Better is designed to benefit women of all ages who have all forms of cancer. No matter what type of cancer a woman might have, if she is undergoing treatment and is concerned about changes in her appearance, the Look Good Feel Better volunteers are happy to help her and welcome her in a workshop.

Look Good Feel Better offers a wide range of materials for oncology nurses, including general information brochures they can put in patient information packets. Posters to display in the hospital, especially valuable when hosting the workshops. Since more than 2000 facilities host workshops, the Look Good Feel Better program is available at many of the major cancer centers around the country.

Some nurses introduce the program as part of an information packet early on in treatment, sometimes on the first day the patient receives chemotherapy or just before. Information about the program is often kept in the treatment areas. For example, some treatment centers keep brochures about Look Good Feel Better in the infusion room. At some hospitals, the care coordinator explains the program when they visit patients in their hospital rooms after surgery, encouraging them to consider participating when they feel up to it.

An Arsenal of Tools

Website The Look Good Feel Better website is robust and rich in information for patients to utilize based on their particular needs, including

  • Videos offering detailed step-by-step instructions
  • Virtual Live Streaming program, a recorded workshop for patients at home to follow along with the workshop.
  • Virtual Makeover Tool, which allows a woman who is not sure if she wants to attend a workshop, or if it will be of benefit to her, to get a sense of what she might learn. Some nurses use this feature to introduce the program to patients while they are in the infusion chair.
  • Program Finder, which helps potential participants find Look Good Feel Better workshops in their area.

Makeover iPhone app The virtual makeover is somewhat abbreviated in the app version, but it offers a similar chance for the patient to experiment with her look.

Health Care Provider Tool Kit Look Good Feel Better is currently working on a health care provider digital tool kit for the oncology nurse, which will package all of the resources available for helping patients. The tool kit should be available before the end of the 2017.

Volunteers Look Good Feel Better recruits volunteers at local and national levels, and currently, the organization is working with approximately 6000 volunteers across the country. The program works through a collaboration of the national Look Good Feel Better Foundation, an adjunct of the Personal Care Products Council, the American Cancer Society, which recruits volunteers at the grass roots level, and the Professional Beauty Association (PBA). Many of the beauty professionals in the program are recruited from local salons through the PBA. The volunteer professionals are always delighted to use their skills to help women at a very critical point in their lives.

Outreach The goal is to help as many women as possible at all stages of cancer treatment at the point where they are having difficulty and need support. On an annual basis, across all of the 2000 facilities that offer workshops, Look Good Feel Better reaches approximately 50,000 women. They also offer one-on-one consultations in some locations where the group workshops are not easily accessible, such as rural areas. In this program, salon-based professionals consult with patients in their salons, providing the same information that the women would get by attending a group workshop. 

At Home Self Help Materials consist of a DVD with an instructional video and a patient participant workbook with step-by-step instructions that is mailed to a participant's home. The women who come to the workshops are at all stages of illness and treatment, but they are able to leave the house. If someone is very ill she can still participate with the At Home Self Help materials or the online instruction. She can then attend a workshop at a later date when she feels better.

Finding Look Good Feel Better programs

Oncology nurses can get more information about this remarkable program 2 ways: Visit their website at lookgoodfeelbetter.org, the Program Finder requires only a zip code to produce a list of all nearby programs; or call their toll free phone number, 800.395.LOOK (5665) to speak with an American Cancer Society specialist who can help find programs and register participants.

Oncology nurses interested in starting a Look Good Feel Better program in their community or facility can contact their local American Cancer Society chapter for help with bringing the necessary resources together.

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