By Jana Soeldner Danger
City & Shore Magazine
Cancer treatments can be tough on physical appearance. Hair loss, dry skin and pigment changes, cracked nails and surgical scarring are some of the challenges patients face during and after treatment.
When a patient looks in the mirror and sees those unwelcome changes, it can result in low self-image and depression. Be U Tiful, a program at the Eugene M. and Christine E. Lynn Cancer Institute at Boca Raton Regional Hospital, teaches participants techniques for dealing with those changes and improving their physical appearance. Until recently, however, the services were offered only to women. Now a new program, Him Too, is being provided for men.
The programs are separated by gender, with Be U Tiful addressing the issues women face, and focusing on side effects experienced by men. “Men are often overlooked in how they feel about their physical appearance during cancer treatment,” says Darci McNally, director of oncology support services and community outreach at LCI. “We created Him II as a safe space for men to learn image enhancement techniques.”
Patients sometimes worry that caring about their appearance will make them seem vain, McNally says. But they shouldn’t. “The most important thing for me is letting participants know it’s OK to want to feel good about how you look. You don’t have to apologize for having some vanity. We don’t want it to be a derogatory word. Improving your appearance lifts your spirits.”
Both programs teach techniques for coping with skin changes and hair loss, as well as hand and nail care, scar camouflage and other conditions related to cancer treatment. A wig company that works in partnership with the programs will restyle a participant’s own wig at no cost, as well as provide a $100 discount on a new one. Women who prefer not to wear a wig learn how to tie scarves, and men who choose to forgo a hairpiece are taught about hats.
Two licensed cosmetologists work with participants to teach about skin care, and each individual receives a kit containing complementary products.
Jordan Meyerson, a real estate executive who lives in Boca Raton, was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer in 2016. Treatment left him with thinning hair, chafed skin and discolored nails. When he recently heard about Him II, he decided to join the inaugural group. “I travel a lot, and I have to look good,” he says.
Sara Balaker of Boynton Beach was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer in 2015 and began participating in the Be U Tiful program to deal with the effects of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. “It was wonderful and very enlightening,” she says. “They showed us how to make ourselves look like we used to look. You could see the transformation in everyone.”
The Be U Tiful session was also helpful emotionally, Balaker says. “It was good to get together with other people going through the experience and the whole gamut of emotions, and it was uplifting to get away from the hustle and bustle of our treatment. It was a time to get beautiful and to focus on ourselves.”
The programs are open not just to BRRH patients, but to anyone in active treatment and for up to a year post-treatment. “The programs help people take back control,” McNally says. “You can’t control the fact that you got cancer, but you can control how it controls your life.”
PHOTO: Jordan Meyerson (Courtesy).