Thanks to the Look Good Feel Better charity, cancer survivor Sheila Hyde learned tips and tricks so she could look like herself again, writes Róisín Healy. firstname.lastname@example.org
When you see Sheila Hyde’s shimmering eye shadow, expertly arched eyebrows and the healthy flush in her cheeks, it would never cross your mind that the glamorous and confident woman sitting before you has spent the last few years battling cancer.
Earlier this year, Sheila attended a Look Good Feel Better (LGFB) workshop where women can learn how to use beauty products to help deal with the side effects of cancer treatment, such as pale, puffy skin and missing eyebrows. "After the Look Good Feel Better workshop, I felt I looked normal, I didn't look sick, and that is all you want, to look as best you can under the circumstances,” she explains. "I felt like a million dollars after the workshop. Now my make-up is constantly admired as I know what I'm doing when applying cosmetics."
Sheila lives with her husband Michael Twomey, a dairy farmer, in Whitechurch, Co Cork. Together they have two children, Denis and Linh, who are adopted from Kazakhstan and Vietnam respectively.
When Sheila felt a sharp pain in her right breast in January 2011, she suspected she had pulled a muscle from lifting her little girl. Nevertheless she decided to go to her GP to get it checked out. Her breast cancer diagnosis was a complete shock. Just three weeks after finding out she had cancer, Sheila under-went a mastectomy, followed by chemotherapy and radiotherapy. After the devastating news, Sheila made it her priority to ensure that Denis, then nine, and Linh, then five, were informed and not afraid.
Putting on make-up was the last thing on her mind during her recovery, but Sheila soon realized how important it was for her children to see her looking healthy. “My little boy asked: ‘Mammy, when are you going to put back on your make-up?’” she recalls. "It was a big thing for them, they had already lost one set of parents, and here I was diagnosed with cancer, and they were aware that this was a very serious illness.” It was perfect timing when a nurse at Cork University Hospital (CUH) invited Sheila to an LGFB workshop.
Along with 11 other women, all at different stages of cancer treatment, Sheila was given a skincare and make-up masterclass at CUH from a team of beauty professionals volunteering with Look Good Feel Better. At the workshops, held once a month in six hospitals around the country, the women are guided through a 12-step programme, starting from cleansing the skin right up to drawing on eyebrows.
“My eyebrows did not come back fully after my treatment and it makes the face very bare looking, so I was glad to learn the technique of skillfully creating eyebrows with pencils,” says Sheila. They are taught how to contour the skin to hide puffiness, how to use green primer to neutralize redness caused by toxicity in the body, and the importance of hygiene, as treatment can increase the risk of infections. Each of the women receive a gift bag worth several hundred euro, full of all the products required to follow the 12 step programme, all of which have been donated by cosmetic companies.
While Sheila found the workshop with the volunteer beautician invaluable, the camaraderie with the other attendees and the care taken in ensuring the women are comfortable, made the day all the more special. “Just being with the other women and being able to talk to them about their experiences was wonderful and it was private," she says. "If one of us took off the wig, everybody understood and the environment was nice and cool, which is so important when your body is going through so much with treatment.”
LGFB programme manager, Maria Martin, explains that the workshops are free, brand neutral and non-medical. “They are held in six hospitals around the country, CUH, Waterford Regional Hospital, Mid Western Regional Limerick, University Hospital Galway, Beaumont Hospital and St James’s Hospital.”
Marguerite Scott, a clinical nurse manager in radiotherapy and oncology, coordinates LGFB in CUH, and says that the workshop is priceless to women going through a very difficult time.
Any change in appearance can affect how you feel and lead to a lack of confidence and loss of privacy. They just go through the roller coaster of emotions really, but LGFB empowers and educates them so they can take back the control,” Marguerite says. "It is a great psychological boost and the impact is immediate, they are so thrilled with how they look and they do tell you: 'I am better able to cope with my treatment now that I look so amazing.'"
As for Sheila, now 45, she has finished her treatment and is currently taking maintenance medication. Her makeover not only helped her feel better, it gave the whole family a lift. “My children loved seeing their mammy looking herself and happy," she says. "It brought some cheer into the house, knowing I was feeling fantastic rather than feeling miserable.