>Some readers might remember a series of TV ads from the late 1970s to early 1980s with a catchy jingle that started:

“When I look good, I feel good

And when I feel good, I look great”

The iconic ads were for Wonderbra, and while the psychological benefits of wearing good lingerie are still intangible, several studies indicate that looking good on the outside can have a positive effect on our self-image and mental health. At no time is this more important than when a woman is undergoing treatment for cancer.

A survey published in October 2002 by the American Look Good...Feel Better Foundation indicated that 83 percent of the respondents (female cancer patients) who experienced changes in their looks believed that their quality of life was affected by these changes. And more than half of them felt that their lives would never be normal again.

This isn’t surprising. Treatments for cancer (surgery, radiation and chemotherapy) can have devastating physical effects: scars, skin discolouration; swelling; weight loss; and hair loss. There are also tattoos to define radiation areas, and increased sensitivity to sunlight.

But that same survey, reflecting the words of that Wonderbra jingle, indicated that well over 80 percent of the respondents stated that looking good helped them to feel better and that about 70 percent of them felt that “keeping up their appearance makes them feel more confident in their ability to cope with cancer”. [Source: Harris Interactive and the Look Good...Feel Better Foundation, October 2002]

That’s a lot of power packed in a tube of lipstick. And it can be explained. Michael States, clinical program director of a chapter of The Wellness Community: “Vanity becomes a statement of survival, of living one’s life in the moment. It’s regaining control”. [Source: New York Times, November 29, 1998]Kyle Spencer, New York City-based writer: “...it became clear to me that my mother’s focus on her looks was really a focus on what she could control in an uncontrollable world.” [Source: Real Simple, May 2002] Marian Bennett in the above-noted survey: “Being part of this program helped me improve my overall outlook on life and feel in control again.”Vivian Littman, Look Good . . . Feel Better participant: “You have to dwell on an area where you feel that you can be beneficial to yourself, where you have control and it’s not the doctor saying, ‘Take this pill’.” [Source: New York Newsday, July 13, 2004]

“Control in an uncontrollable world”; it really explains it all. It’s about being able to look in a mirror and see yourself, instead of a cancer patient.

This is where the Look Good...Feel Better Foundation comes in.

This foundation started in the United States in 1989. This program, in conjunction with cosmetics industry associations and cancer societies in member countries, teaches women skin care and hair techniques to help counteract the changes in one’s appearance that can result from cancer treatment. There are now programs in countries around the world, including Canada, England, Australia, Germany and Ireland.

During two-hour workshops, participants learn how to pencil on brows, gently dot on eyeliner when eyelashes have gone, perk up sallow skin and cover radiation tattoos. Techniques in turban-wrapping, hat selection and instructions in keeping wigs on are also part of the process. Attendees are given a cosmetic tool kit with a value of over $200US.

More importantly, they are given the opportunity to meet with other women going through similar experiences, and a valuable tool in their fight against cancer -- the chance to feel like themselves again.

You can support the work of the foundation in your country in several ways. They are registered charities and can accept donations. Events both small and large are held in the community -- for example, last month I attended a “Beauty at the Bay” event held in the cosmetics department of a local department store and a portion of the ticket cost was donated to the foundation. And last year, I bought a small lapel pin bearing the foundation’s logo, a rising sun, at a local drug store chain. Events are posted on the foundation’s web sites:

www.lookgoodfeelbetter.org (United States)www.lgfb.ca (Canada)www.lgfb.org.au (Australia)www.lookgoodfeelbetter.co.uk (United Kingdom)

As the banner on the home page of the Canadian LGFB Foundation reminds us: nothing can take your beauty away; not even cancer.

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October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. I urge all readers to practice breast self-exam on a regular basis. This exam should be performed monthly after reaching puberty. Although it is rare, young women can develop this disease, as can men. Early detection can save your life. Instructions for proper techniques can be found at:American Breast Cancer FoundationCanadian Breast Cancer FoundationNational Breast Cancer Foundation of Australia