It is no secret that I don’t wear make-up. I have never been a subscriber. This was always much to my mother’s chagrin – she was the Russian beauty who always tried to get her Tom-boy girl down from the trees to change ripped pants before company arrived. My poor mother. My daughter, it seems, has the same relationship to make-up as I do. We just don’t. We are surrounded, however, by people who do have a relationship with make-up that neither Katya nor I understand.
“Stacey, there is a program that is offered to cancer patients called, “Look Good, Feel Better”, explained my care coordinator through the Ontario Federation of Teachers. She continued to explain, “The volunteers in that program help you to understand how to take care of your skin when you are undergoing treatment for cancer as your skin can be affected by the treatments. You also receive about $500 worth of make-up and coaching with respect to how to apply it. You may not wear make-up, but it may be worth your while to attend to learn about good skin care.”
“Hmmm”, I thought. “I don’t wear make-up.”
Truthfully, I have never been a fan of make-up. I am just not interested in spending time in front of the mirror in the morning trying to paint things onto my face that will only smear or rub off throughout the day. And that I may even have to re-apply things to my face just sends me over the edge. I did, however, keep an open mind and make a phone call to the, “Look Good, Feel Better” program offered, complimentary, at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Barrie.
“Please leave a message and we will get right back to you”, was the response I got when I called.
“Oh, good”. I thought. “I can at least say I tried when people ask whether or not I took them up on their suggestion.”
Less than 10 minutes later, however, the phone rang. Sure enough, it was the coordinator for the program. What was worse was that she was very pleasant. She even sounded pretty on the phone. “Stacey, we look forward to seeing you this Tuesday and you will be very happy that you came.”
“I am sure I will” I replied, meanwhile thinking, “good grief, what have I got myself into? I would rather stick pins in my eyes!”
I dragged my daughter, Katya, along with me on that fateful Tuesday. I thought if nothing else, she may use the make-up. “Mom”, she said. “Don’t feel you have to wear the make-up they give you. Just do what makes you feel comfortable.” I guess my reputation for participating in the make-up routine preceded me. She was right – I just had to keep an open mind. Katya and I walked to the front doors of the RVH and lo and behold if there wasn’t a fire alarm sounding and the visitors and staff were all waiting for the “all clear” in the front doors. To me – that was the sign of trouble to come. Someone was looking out for me and saying – DON’T DO IT! Katya looked at me and asked, “Are you okay?” I guess my make-up anxiety was showing. I was almost more anxious about my forth-coming make-up session than I had been with my chemo.
Several minutes later, a former student walked in. I was delighted to see her and summoned her over to meet my daughter. This girl, well young mom now, was brilliant. I loved teaching her – after she and I had had two confrontations over “attitude adjustments” that needed to have been made. Yes, we had butted heads, but had developed a very strong respect for one another over the next few years. It had been seven years ago that I had taught her, but she had kept me in the loop with her life now and then so that I had some idea of what she was doing and where she had been. I was very sad to learn about the challenges that she was currently facing. I have always found that all some of my young students need is a cheer-leader. They need someone to believe in them again and to tell them how much value they really do have as a person. We had a great chat during that fire alarm. We found that we had so much in common in that we were both in fights for our lives – although the fights were very different – they were very intense. We also agreed that we were both very determined to make things better and were willing to work hard to overcome our challenges. I admire this young woman. She is strong and she is courageous. All she needs is a cheer-leader. That meeting was a gift to me. She gave me the opportunity to be her cheer-leader. It is so very vital to be needed. She offered to be my cheerleader. And that made her feel needed.
The fire alarm ended almost on cue and we went our separate ways: she to her program and me to my program.
Katya and I were greeted at the door by a “blue-coat” hospital volunteer. “Are you here for the Look Good, Feel Good program?”
“Yes I am. And I am looking forward to looking as good as I feel” I replied.
She smiled and offered for us to take off our coats and hats and then escorted us to the classroom. Several other woman arrived in the meanwhile and there was quite a commotion as the other ladies met and greeted one another as though we had all been comarades-in-arms. It was a very unusual tone in that we all knew we were fighting cancer and that gave us common ground instantly.
“When did you lose your hair?”
“How many rounds of chemo have you had?”
“Are your hands as dry as mine?”
“I have lost all my body hair – have you?”
“Is this your first time with cancer?”
And so went the conversation until we were all called to order and introduced to our “chef d’emission” for the day. “Welcome to the program. Today, you will learn about skin care, make-up, and some hair options. What you will remember more than anything else, however, is that you are not alone. You will laugh with one another and you will learn that you are okay. Some of you have lost your hair and some of you have even lost your nose hair. You may make some friends. All of you will leave today with a box full of wonderful products that have been donated and you will leave today feeling beautiful. Beauty comes from within, this make-up will only help to give you a bit more confidence to let your true beauty show.”
And the show began. There were 14 of us. A beauty guide was assigned for each two or three women in the program. We opened our boxes and took out our gear. “I don’t wear make-up” I kept thinking to myself. “What am I going to do with this stuff?” I thought.
“Step one is always clean your face. Take this cream and do this, then this, this. Now put this on your eyes. You will feel refreshed.”
“Oh, boy” I thought. “Stacey, keep an open mind.” I did what I was instructed to do. Lo and behold, my guide was right. My eyes felt great – they felt like they had opened up! How had she known that my eyes felt eternally tired since I began chemo?
“Next, take this and do this and that and this and that. You will feel totally refreshed.”
Yup. She did it again.
“This moisturizer will feel amazing. Do this and this and this and that.”
For the first time in a long time I didn’t think my face was going to crack when I smiled. It felt wonderful – how did she know?
Okay, truthfully, the more the day progressed, the dumber I felt in that I had completely undersold this program. These women who volunteered their time and effort and talent on that day were not wet under the ears. They had done this before with hundreds of women who experienced the same chemo and radiation after-effects as me. They knew what to do with what product and knew how much this whole program would help me to feel good. They were kind. They were insightful. They were afraid of nothing and no question was out-of-order. We, the women fighting cancer, were being noticed, pampered, listened to, and understood. Feeling “good” was not about the make-up. Feeling good was a result of the attention we were receiving. It was about the care. It was about the empathy. It was that our fight to conquer cancer was not ours alone. We were all on the same team and this beauty session was our time-out from our fight. Here, we could lay down our arms and rest. Here, we could relax and forget our struggle for a while. Here, we could feel normal – like women rather than warriors.
I still don’t wear make-up and I probably never will, but when I apply that moisturizer I am instantly returned to that moment in the classroom when I became my old self again. And that makes me feel much, much better!