Look Good Feel Better program helps breast cancer survivor get her confidence back

Two-hour class offered every other month at the Lewis Cancer & Research Pavilion

Marla McLendon didn’t grieve when her hair, eyebrows and eyelashes started falling out. The breast cancer survivor accepted it as her new normal.

However, a two-hour class at the Nancy N. and J.C. Lewis Cancer & Research Pavilion changed her expectations. And so did the eyebrows, but more on that later. 

Marla McLendon
Marla McLendon, breast cancer survivor

Marla was diagnosed with invasive lobular carcinoma stage 3C in her right breast and lobular carcinoma in situ in her left breast on Jan. 6, 2017. In April, right in the middle of chemotherapy treatments, Marla signed up for Look Good Feel Better at the recommendation of the staff of her physicians, Dr. Mark Taylor and Dr. Susan Mahany.

Look Good Feel Better helps women with cancer during treatment do exactly that. It is sponsored by Personal Care Products Council Foundation, the American Cancer Society and Professional Beauty Association. The LCRP is a host site every other month.

During the two-hour class, volunteer beauty professionals help cancer survivors with:

  • Skin care and makeup application
  • Tips on wig selection and wig care
  • Dry skin and discolored nails
  • Scarves, turbans and hats

Marla admittedly isn’t a frilly woman and had too much to worry about rather than her appearance. However, she had so much respect for her physicians and care team she decided to check the class out. Almost immediately, Marla was enthralled with the beauty tips she was not only getting from the cosmetologist but fellow cancer survivors.

“I was struggling putting on eyebrows, and I remember one woman said, ‘Remember, they are sisters, not twins,’” Marla recalls. “That took the pressure off, and I didn’t struggle as much putting on eyebrows.

“It’s really crazy how much of a difference having eyebrows makes going out in public,” says Marla, 55, of Guyton. “I felt like a patient. I felt like I was sick. I looked like I was sick, but when I put on eyebrows and went out, I didn’t. I wasn’t any healthier or sicker, I just had eyebrows. Who knew that would make that big of a difference but it did.

“This class taught me that you can have some expectations,” Marla continues. “You can get on with your life and grooming yourself is part of that. Not that I didn’t groom, I was clean, but I didn’t have to accept that I had no control over my appearance because I did.”

Marla’s story

Marla received her diagnosis when she was 54 years old. Her initial feelings were terror and guilt. How was this going to impact her three sons? She didn’t dwell on those feelings for too long, however.

“I quickly, as a mother does, had to get that under wraps and go on about living and taking care of business,” Marla says. “I never said, ‘Why me?’ I said, ‘It’s my turn in the barrel, and I am going to show my kids how to handle adversity.’”

Marla had a bilateral mastectomy with axillary node dissection on January 26, 2017. She had 33 nodes removed of which 15 were malignant. Marla went through chemotherapy from March until August followed by 30 radiation treatments.

Marla received tremendous support at home from her sons, who are now 18, 15 and 12.

“A big burden fell on them, especially my oldest who did all the driving and taking kids to practice and getting the groceries. My middle and younger boys were really great at caring for me,” Marla says. “They all stepped right up to the plate and never blinked. I am so proud of my boys.”

If Marla did start to feel down, she never stayed down. How could anyone with three rambunctious boys bouncing around the house, Marla asks.

“I hate to say this, but it’s been a real positive experience. I wouldn’t want to do it again but there were a lot of benefits to it,” Marla says. “Some of the things I thought were important in life were not important at all. It helped me and my boys focus. My kids, I hated that they had to grow up a bit, but they did it magnificently.”

Marla also found support from her school family who stopped by often with meals. She said she didn’t ask for help, they just showed up, which restored her soul. As did Look Good Feel Better.

How Look Good Feel Better helped Marla get her confidence back

“When I walked into the Look Good Feel Better class, I hadn’t really been looking ahead towards anything. I had just been surviving the day,” Marla says. “That class changed my outlook that maybe I should think about my social life and maybe I should start rejoining activities that I enjoyed before instead of just waiting to see what life was going to hit me with.

Alaina Underberg
Alaina Underberg, LCRP business research manager and Look Good Feel Better co-coordinator
Christina Head
Christina Head, oncology clinical initiatives analyst and Look Good Feel Better co-coordinator

“I don’t want to give all the credit to Look Good Feel Better because it was a team effort but that was instrumental in changing me from let me just get through this day to what can we do today.”

In addition to learning how to put on eyebrows, Marla also learned about putting on head coverings. While she embraced being bald – a perk during Georgia summers, she says – she never thought about the fact that a bald head can get cold at night. Before long, she had a closet full of wraps, scarves and other headgear.

Additionally, each participant of Look Good Feel Better gets a free makeup kit. Kits are offered in light, medium, dark and extra dark to match appropriate skin tones. Marla still has some makeup from her kit.

Another aspect that Marla enjoyed about the class was the spirit of the other cancer survivors. She said her class laughed and were so giddy about their new makeup. No one felt sorry for themselves. 

“I would absolutely recommend Look Good Feel Better,” Marla says. “I would tell people who, like I was, are not really interested in going and feel they have too many important things to worry about other than their appearance, go. I am so grateful for my doctors pointing this out to me and telling me I need to do this.”

Register for Look Good Feel Better today

Look Good Feel Better is offered free of charge for cancer survivors once in their lifetime. Family members are invited to watch. The program is led by a volunteer cosmetologist. One of the more frequent volunteers also is a cancer survivor, says Alaina Underberg, MHSA, CCRP, LCRP business research manager, who is one of the LCRP coordinators for Look Good Feel Better. Christina Head, MHSA, oncology clinical initiatives analyst, is the other coordinator.

“Our cosmetologists come in and the patients are able to talk about any issues that they are dealing with regarding chemo and radiation,” Underberg says. “They have an opportunity to talk to the cosmetologists about what has changed in their body and things they need help with. It’s definitely an empowering class.”

Registration is recommended for the Look Good Feel Better class to ensure proper makeup kits are available. The class at the LCRP is for women. Look Good Feel Better offers tips and videos online for men and teens

2018 dates for Look Good Feel Better at the LCRP are:

  • February 5
  • April 2
  • June 4
  • August 6
  • October 1
  • December 3

The class is from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. in the second floor conference room of the Lewis Cancer & Research Pavilion, 225 Candler Drive. Memorial Health University offers the program opposite months.

To register, call 1-800-227-2345. For more information about Look Good Feel Better, visit the website, lookgoodfeelbetter.org


Look Good Feel Better photos courtesy of American Cancer Society. 
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