Program helps cancer patients feel good

Published 2:42 am Sunday, November 1, 2009

When Misty Toruno received the news that she had Stage 3C ovarian cancer, her mind raced with all the implications of the diagnosis from the survival rate, to her family and friends, to all the side effects of chemotherapy. “I was most concerned with my hair,” said Misty, echoing the concerns of most women who undergo the treatment. “It is what makes me feel feminine, feel like a woman.”

As the executive secretary to Highland Community Hospital’s director, Misty knew well that once she started the chemotherapy, she would lose her hair. But, the reality does not usually hit home with most cancer patients until the loss actually starts to happen.

Enter Look Good Feel Good, a free program sponsored by the American Cancer Society, Personal Care Products Council Foundation, and the National Cosmetology Association.

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Look Good Feel Better helps women (and children and men) cope with the appearance-related side effects of cancer treatment by teaching them beauty tips. Those tips, along with skin care techniques and well-crafted wigs, help the patients enhance their looks and boost their self-image.

For Misty, she began noticing her hair was beginning to fall out a short time after her first session. “Two weeks after my first chemo treatment, I noticed it was thinning,” said Misty, whose long locks had been tight, bouncy curls. “The hardest thing was dealing with the hair loss.”

Misty knew of the Look Good Feel Good program because they had approached Highland the year prior about starting one locally. “The American Cancer Society had talked to us about a year ago,” explained Misty. “But they have to have someone who is trained and they had to get certain things in order before it could be an actuality.”

So without a local program, Misty traveled to Gulfport to participate. “I went there in February when my hair first started falling out,” said Misty, adding that JoAn Nickey, founder of the Pink Hearts Funds Charity took her under her wing. “She said ‘Honey, don’t worry, we’ll take care of you.’”

And it was there that Misty confronted the challenge of what she was facing. “JoAn cut my hair real short,” explained Misty. “And my sister had about 10 inches of her hair cut and my aunt had about eight inches cut.” Nickey then bagged the locks and sent it off to a special wig manufacturer to fashion a wig for Misty.

In the meantime, Misty was given variety of wigs to try on. “There was this big long table with all these wigs on it and I was told to try them on and take whatever I liked,” she continued. Going home with two synthetic wigs, Misty soon had to deal with the loss of her eye lashes and eye brows. “When you have no hair, no eye lashes, no eye brows, everyone knows you are sick,” she said. “It’s like you’ve got a beacon on you.”

Misty continued, explaining that through the Look Good Feel Good program she soon learned creative ways to tie a scarf, make-up tips, and information on what to expect during her treatments, helping change the feelings of helplessness and unattractiveness. “They teach you how to help yourself look and feel good when going through treatment,” said Misty. “Plus there are other people there going through the same thing, so it is like a support group.”

She said that each participant is given a make-up kit according to their skin type, as well as the use of wigs. “I heard that it takes 1000 ponytails to make 90 childrens’ wigs,” said Misty, adding that most adults are fitted with synthetic wigs while all the children are given ones with real hair. Because Misty and her family had donated real hair to have a wig made for Misty, hers arrived, free of charge, four weeks later.

As for the beauty tips, Misty explained that the chemo treatments tend to not only cause hair loss, but that the skin becomes dry and dull and in most cases the patient loses their fingernails and toenails. “They teach you skin care, nail care, how to draw your eyebrows,” said Misty. “It gives you insight into what to expect and how to help prevent some of the losses.”

What is especially good, continued Misty, is that Highland will now be hosting the Look Good Feel Good program starting November 9 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. “It is a really good thing for our community,” said Misty. “And it is for anyone newly diagnosed or going through treatment.”

Continuing, she said, “It is nice we have it here so they don’t have to travel to Louisiana or Gulfport. I hope as many people as possible take the opportunity as the Look Good Feel Good program will help you feel better about yourself”

As for her future, Misty said she was optimistic. “I had my last treatment in June,” said Misty, adding that she soon returns for her CA125 test. “They say you have to go five years before you are considered cancer-free, but I know I am going to be okay.”

Look Good Feel Better is a non-medical program offered free of charge by the American Cancer Society, Personal Care Products Council Foundation and the National Cosmetology Association. No product endorsements are given, and participants are never asked to buy anything from volunteers or participating organizations.

Sessions will be held at Highland Community Hospital on Goodyear Boulevard in Picayune. Pearl River County residents can contact Misty Toruno at 601-798-4711 ext. 1116 to register. Look Good Feel Better sessions will be held on the following dates: Nov. 9 — 4 to 6 p.m.; Jan. 11, 2010 — 4 to 6 p.m.; April 12 — 4 to 6 p.m.; July 12 — 4 to 6 p.m.; and Oct. 11 — 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

For more information about Look Good Feel Better or cancer, contact your local office of the American Cancer Society at 228-896-8936 or 1-800-227-2345 or visit