By Amelia Blades Steward
Women going through cancer treatment often experience a temporary change in their looks. Whether it is hair loss or changes in their skin, many are faced with managing their new “look” without anyone to show them how to do it. A wonderful free program offered to women going through a cancer journey is helping to put lives back together by improving their looks and outlook. The “Looks and Outlook” program offers one-on-one consultation that takes about an hour, providing tips on skincare, hairstyling, nail care, eye or lip makeup, and eyebrow enhancement.
Between 2002 and 2019, the University of Maryland Shore Regional Health (UMSRH) offered the American Cancer Society program, “Look Good . . . Feel Better.” The free national program for women undergoing cancer treatment offered instruction, tips, suggestions, and advice on dealing with the associated hair loss and skin, complexion, and nail changes. The program included complimentary cosmetic products and helped patients learn about applying make-up, caring for wigs, and using turbans, scarves, and hats.
After the American Cancer Society and its national partners decided to end offering the program in 2019, two local women, Patty Plaskon, LCSW-C, OSW-C, APHSW-C, Ph.D., Oncology Social Work Coordinator at UMSRH, and local hairdresser Kim Hardesty, owner of Salon Inspire in Trappe, decided to partner and develop a new program, “Looks and Outlook,” for cancer patients on the Mid Shore.
“We realized the need for the program and decided to pivot and create a new program to serve cancer patients. Having hair fall out naturally during treatment can be traumatic for women – it’s both uncomfortable and unattractive. We came up with the name ‘Looks and Outlook’ because its initials were L.O.L., which everyone knows and associates with fun. People can be frightened going through cancer treatment and this makes them feel lighter and to be hopeful,” comments Patty.
The effects of cancer treatment (fatigue, dehydration, hair loss, and changes in hormones or blood counts) can temporarily change a person’s look. According to information provided to clients of “Looks and Outlook,” research shows that how clients feel about their appearance affects how well they cope with cancer.
Kim, a licensed hairdresser, took classes specific to hair and make-up for cancer patients when initially getting involved with the “Look Good … Feel Better” program as a monthly volunteer over 20 years ago.
“I have always volunteered my services, providing free haircuts, shaping up and trimming new and used wigs, and showing clients how to use a variety of make-up products. In our new program, I provide a free make-up bag to each client. My focus is providing camouflage make-up for the side effects of radiation and chemotherapy,” Kim adds.
Kim tries to make clients relax and feel taken care of when they visit her welcoming salon in Trappe. People donate new makeup, new and used wigs, and money to help offset the costs associated with the program. Wigs and scarves are also available at the Cancer Center at no cost for those who cannot afford to purchase them elsewhere.
Client Alix Lovell of Easton found the program extremely helpful when going through her cancer treatment. She recalls her session with Kim, “I don’t remember the conversation we had. I was still in shock that I was losing my extremely long, thick hair. Kim walked me through it. I felt safe, respected, and cared for there. It was a beautiful experience in a very unpleasant moment of my life.”
Alix’s husband accompanied her to the first appointment with Kim to provide support for his wife so she wouldn’t be alone going through having her head shaved. She states, “He said to me, ‘It’s just hair – it will grow back.’”
Theresa Stafford of Cambridge, who has had three bouts of cancer and has also used the program, states, “I went to the salon, and I felt at ease from the moment I arrived to the moment I left. It wasn’t about the cancer and the loss of my hair. It was about the conversation and how good she made me feel.”
“It’s the best experience I have had in my life. Kim made me feel good about myself and my outlook. You could tell that she genuinely wanted to help me.”
This winter, Kim worked with motivational speaker Linda Evans of The Conference Table Seminars who offered a free program to her clients at Salon Inspire called “Chase Your Dreams to Success!” When Kim named her beauty salon 12 years ago, she wanted to “inspire others to live their best life.” The program invited attendees to define their dream and discuss pathways to reach the dream, focusing on their self-confidence, awareness, and the importance of goal setting.
Linda commented, “I’m impressed with Kim’s work for cancer. It is unusual for a salon to offer a venue for community learning, but she named it Salon Inspire ‘to inspire others to be their best.’ I am hoping Kim and I can offer community programs on a regular basis.”
“This program was something positive to help people get out and hear a positive motivational speaker. Women often have dreams that are not realized, and this was a chance to help them dream and focus on something positive,” Kim commented. “In the beginning, I felt for people going through a cancer diagnosis. Since then, I have had friends and family diagnosed with cancer, which makes it closer to home. It makes me feel good to help others. True success is when you love what you do, and you can help others by doing it.”
“This program and what Kim offers are critically important. You can breathe again after you visit her,” concluded Alix.
For further information about “Looks and Outlook,” contact Patty Plaskon, Oncology Social Work Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 410-820-6800. Salons interested in participating in the “Looks and Outlook” program may contact Kim Hardesty at email@example.com or 410-476-6125.
Call UMSRH Cancer Center at 410-820-6800 Monday through Friday during regular business hours to make an appointment at the Wig Room or to find a local salon providing LOL sessions near you.