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Putting a new face on cancer

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)

Murmurs of approval were heard after Sue Stumpf decorated her formerly plain face with eye make-up and lipstick.

She had been struggling to apply cosmetics to a face ravaged by chemotherapy.

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"I don't have one eyelash to put this on, I really don't," Stumpf said regretfully. Volunteer cosmetologist Michelle Ward came over to help her.

Finally, Stumpf looked up from her small face mirror, drawing attention from the other women in the room.

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"You look like a different person," one of them noted as Stumpf beamed under her blonde wig.

For women like Stumpf, who have been struggling to live normal lives after being diagnosed with cancer, a unique new class promises a different way to look pretty and a chance to connect with others in the same boat.

Stumpf was one of five women who attended a recent session of "Look Good Feel Better," a national makeover class run by a cosmetics trade organization, the American Cancer Society and the Professional Beauty Association/National Cosmetology Association.

Launched in the late 1980s by the Personal Care Products Council, the class is offered monthly at the Kaufman Cancer Center at University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air, which opened almost two years ago.

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The "Look Good Feel Better" program for female cancer patients is scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month. Pre-registration is required and more information is available at 1-800-ACS-2345.

The class is run by volunteers who present the women with a free bag of cosmetics and take them through a personalized makeover tailored for the special needs of cancer patients.

Michelle Ward, a cosmetologist for two decades, said teaching the class has meant a lot to her.

"I had family members that had cancer, so I researched and this popped up," she explained.

"I've been doing it three years now and I love it, and I'm trying to move even further to train other stylists and aestheticians to do this also," she said.

At a class on July 14, Ward took the five women who attended through a full make-up regimen, giving specialized tips along the way.

"Anything you put your hands in or put your brush in, it gets bacteria," she told them. "When you are going through chemotherapy, you are more sensitive to infection."

"This is all clean, all fresh and new," she said as the women opened their "Look Good Feel Better" bags.

Sitting in front of small face mirrors, they followed along with Ward's explanation of the organization's 12-step make-up program.

As they rubbed in creamy lotion and moisturizer, Ward noted: "This is definitely a time when your skin is going to be drier than usual."

Concealer was also to be dabbed under the eyes or on any blemishes or discolored skin.

"A lot of times, your skin just changes and gets marks and different things," she said, adding: "Sometimes just a little bit of make-up just makes you feel better."

After foundation and optional powder, they came to eye shadow, eyeliner and mascara, a sensitive topic for many women who lose their brows and lashes after chemotherapy.

Ward helped Stumpf apply eye make-up as the other women tried to boost each other's confidence.

"Everybody is gorgeous tonight," one person added.

After the make-up course, Ward showed the women tricks for tying a hair scarf and gave suggestions for choosing a wig or hair covering.

Those who came seemed to get much more out of the class than just make-up tips. They also got a support group of sorts, as well as a chance to take their minds off some of their problems, even if only a small part.

"This is my second time, and they are so good to me here," Stumpf said, admitting she had already taken the class once but was struggling with finances.

"They know I run out of make-up," she said. "They let me come again to get my make-up."

She was also enthusiastic about the Kaufman Cancer Center.

"This place saved my life," she said.

Theresa McAdams was also upbeat about the program.

She has Stage 3 breast cancer and is in her second round of chemotherapy, after which she plans to have a partial mastectomy.

"You get to meet some other people who are going through what you're going through, and then you get make-up, so it's kind of fun," she said with a smile.

"What woman doesn't want to get some new makeup and put it on with other women that are going through what you're going through?" she said.

"Michelle was great, and everybody was great," McAdams added. "I'm glad I came."

Amanda McGraw thought the class might have made more sense earlier in her diagnosis and suggested it be advertised more.

"[Michelle Ward] knew that I had been diagnosed in March and just wanted to offer her support," McGraw said.

At 36, McGraw is the youngest in her family to have breast cancer, although she has a history of the disease on both sides of her family.

McGraw noted she is being treated at University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson.

Ward said watching the interaction among the patients, seeing the women help each other, was very meaningful.

"I just think it's a great way to give back," she said after the class.

"I love the end of the class. Everybody is coming together and talking about what issues they have, and they're all going through the same thing, and they know they're not alone," Ward said.

She added the she likes to use humor and make people chuckle.

"I kind of feel everybody out and I like to make people laugh because it tends to make you forget a little bit. That's important for me," she said.

"I love watching everybody's face when they light up knowing they have eyebrows again or just having a little piece of information that helped," she said.

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