L eukemia patient Patty Dugan is undergoing a treatment aimed at making her feel better -- she's having a make over.
She's at the head of the table in a conference room at the University of Maryland cancer center, the subject of a demonstration in proper skin care and cosmetic application. Bags packed with free, brand-name cosmetics have been set in place around the table, and several other women, cancer patients, sort through the products as a cosmetician shows some of the tricks of the beauty trade.
The "treatment," known as the "Look Good . . . Feel Better" program, is a free lesson in cosmetics to improve the morale and self-esteem of women whose appearance has suffered the side effects of the battle against cancer.
"You have hair loss, changes in skin tone, your skin gets red and blotchy, and dark circles form around your eyes. All of which, collectively, doesn't make for a hap- py outlook," says Carolyn Deaver, vice president of theWashington-based Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association Foundation.
Originator of the idea, the Foundation brought in members of the National Cosmetology Association, who volunteer to lead the sessions, and the American Cancer Society, which teaches the cosmetologists about the special problems of the patients.
"This program allows women to deal with the outer manifestations of treatment so that they don't look sick," says Mrs. Deaver, 50, who is also the wife of former White House
official Mike Deaver. "If you have a restored sense of self-esteem, you can stay on the job, or return to the workplace."
Mrs. Deaver speaks from firsthand experience. Fighting breast cancer two years ago, she attended one of the program's pilot sessions at Georgetown University Hospital.
As a cosmetologist, a Look Good volunteer and a two-time cancer patient, 48-year-old Mary Stevens of Baltimore has a story even more to the point.
Recuperating from surgery for a recent malignancy, she recalled in a phone interview the effects of her first round of chemotherapy 19 years ago: "I went through loss of my hair and changes in my skin," she says. "They didn't have this program then, but because I was a cosmetician, there were things I was able to do for myself."
But for the inexperienced, trying to hide the damage can be daunting.
Wigs are sometimes troublesome, says cosmetologist-volunteer Ellen Aaron of Johann and Rene Hair Design. "They're designed with too much hair, so that you can re-style them," she says. "But people are apprehensive about buying them, because they see all that hair."
And when chemotherapy has left a person feeling really awful, a wig can sometimes be uncomfortably warm, she's found. Turbans are lighter and easier to wear, but not particularly pretty or stylish.
Many women are also reluctant to show anyone their baldness, even when improving personal appearance is the goal, says leukemia patient Virginia Bramble, 50.
More matter-of-fact about her own hair loss, she bares her head and lets Ms. Aaron show how she'd look in red, black and blond wigs, how scarves and bands and earrings can turn turbans into more fashionable camouflage.
Faces need special treatment during treatment, too, says aesthetician-volunteer Arlinda Harris, owner of Arlinda's Place Skin Care Salon.
Talking as she creams and moisturizes and gently massages Ms. Dugan's face, Ms. Harris explains that chemotherapy can dry the skin and leave it susceptible to wrinkling.
Changes in skin color can call for a change in foundation color. Eyebrows can be lost like the rest of the hair; they may need re-drawing, with color applied first to a brow-brush or baby toothbrush. If eyelashes go, eyeliner can still accent the eyes;short strokes of the mascara wand on the lower lid can also create the illusion of lower lashes.
The program is more than skin deep, however.
One woman younger than the rest and clearly more distressed about her illness cries as she tries to apply eye shadow.
Sitting next to her, Dolores Dixon, a cancer center pharmacist at the University of Maryland who is now fighting breast cancer herself, finds a double purpose in the session: Learning how to do her own face, she also shares her upbeat attitude with the younger woman.
"You have to keep hope up, you have to keep a positive attitude," she says afterward.
Moving from patient to patient to help with the makeup as Ms. Harris demonstrates, Ms. Aaron also stops to hug and murmur something soothing to the younger woman.
"It's a very healing experience to be able to talk to somebody else, other than your family," she says. Ms. Aaron lost her own father to cancer; the healing, here on the cancer floor at the hospital, goes both ways.
"It's a shot in the arm for the patients," says Dr. Nathan Schnaper, head of psycho-social services at University's Cancer Center.
"Even though 'Look Good . . . Feel Better' sounds kind of cutesy, it explains it so succinctly. It does matter. The next day, they put on the makeup, the wigs and turbans, and they're paying attention to themselves; it's a positive distraction from the illness."