A look inside the "Look Good, Feel Better" class at the Kaufman Cancer Center where cancer patients learn techniques for applying makeup. (Bryna Zumer and Dan Griffin, Baltimore Sun Media Group)
The Estee Lauder lipstick in bold raspberry made Gloria Jarrell hesitate.
"Oh, bold ain't the word for it," she said in the hospital salon.
"Come on," her sister urged. "Try something different."
Jarrell, 59, had recently begun weekly chemotherapy sessions. Her hair was still full and auburn. The North Baltimore woman came to the Look Good Feel Better makeup seminar last week for techniques to mask the eventual toll chemotherapy would take.
Cancer treatments can cause splotchy skin, baggy eyes, and the hair in brows and lashes to fall out. Skillful application of concealer, foundation and eyeliner, however, can hide these side effects.
"It makes them feel that they can face the world again without it being, 'Oh, my gosh. She has cancer,'" said Debbi Basile, a cosmetologist who runs free seminars at Greater Baltimore Medical Center in Towson.
An American Cancer Society program, the seminars offer makeup lessons, hats and scarves, and beauty advice for women enduring chemotherapy. Free Look Good Feel Better seminars are held at hospitals around the country and twice a month at GBMC. Women must only be undergoing chemotherapy to attend.
"Sometimes you get ho-hum and blah," Jarrell said. "Anybody who wants me to look better and feel better — I'm in for that."
The program began nearly 30 years ago and has grown to serve 50,000 women a year, according to its website. Cosmetologists volunteer to run the sessions and cosmetics companies donate gift bags with makeup and brushes. Some 15,000 sessions are held each year. (Those interested in the program can call 1-800-227-2345 to find a session nearby.)
Basile owns SASS Salon near Towson and teaches women how to conceal splotches with foundation. She demonstrates how feathered eyeliner can create the illusion of lashes.
"Little tips like that, which most people don't know, really help," she said.
Cancer patients around the country may have attended seminars before their holiday parties and family visits. But Jarrell and her sister came Thursday for distraction. Their middle sister recently died of an accidental drug overdose, said Beverly Lam, 65, the eldest sister.
"It takes us away from the sadness for a little while," Lam said.
They went three days before Christmas and Laura Schein, a community outreach coordinator at GBMC, was standing in for the cosmetologist. Jarrell sat before a mirror in the hospital salon — usually sessions are held in a conference room — while Schein went over the accessories in a free makeup bag: cleansers, moisturizers, brushes, an eyebrow pencil called "brow power."
Doctors found a spot in her lung last year while she was having a hip replaced. She was diagnosed with cancer at the end of the summer. Then surgery was in October, and chemotherapy started this month.
Jarrell told herself she would endure chemotherapy alone.
"If you wouldn't let me in, I'd have sat outside," Lam said. "I lost one sister, I'm not losing another."
Lam was the sister interested in clothes and makeup — the "preppy one," Jarrell says. The sisters grew up working at the family bar in Dundalk, Phil's Bar and Lounge, which closed years ago. When Lam began working there, her mother stood up and warned the male patrons to keep their hands to themselves.
There was no such warning for Jarrell. She could handle herself. After all, she was the sister who befriended the guard dog at the cemetery near their home. And she wasn't one for bold lipsticks.