Updated 04 April 2017

If you look good, you’ll feel better

When you’re sick and going through treatment, often it’s the treatment rather than the disease that makes you feel most vile.


So it is with chemotherapy and radiotherapy, commonly used to treat cancer. Apart from meaning you might lose your hair, eyebrows and eyelashes, these treatment regimes can result in mouths that are sore from ulcers; dry lips and flaky skin; unevenness and livid red blotches on the complexion. Not a good look, and overwhelmingly dispiriting for anyone who’s trying to put on a brave face.

That’s where Look Good … Feel Better (LGFB) comes in. It’s an outreach programme which works on the principle that if chemotherapy patients can be given the tools to manage the side-effects of their treatment, they will also to some extent be empowered to deal with the anxiety, depression, fear and frustration that accompany serious illness and ongoing treatment.

The workshop

In workshop sessions that last two hours, a team of demonstrators, supported by volunteers, set up at a hospital or oncology clinic and talk the patients – mostly women, though there are some men’s groups – through how to deal with the nasty side-effects. When the patients leave, they take the products home with them. It’s free, it’s product-neutral, and it’s supported by doctors who absolutely understand the role of the psyche in surviving the assault of cancer treatment.

LGFB operates in 23 countries. The South African chapter was established in 2004, and is supported by the Clicks Foundation and a host of businesses and beauty houses, from everyday to prestige brands. Over the years, more than 8,500 patients have attended workshops.

Helen Ohlhoff
One of the volunteers is Helen Ohlhoff, the Cape Town Regional Coordinator. In her previous life, she was an occupational therapist, and she also worked in the cosmetics industry for many years. She became involved with LGFB as a volunteer in early 2006.

The benefit of volunteership

“Although I never expected to ‘get back something’ from being a volunteer, or to receive any form of recognition, I feel more fulfilled and inspired after every workshop,” she says. “The patients are so appreciative of our help and encouragement.

They often give us feedback about how sick they felt before they arrived at the workshop, and how positive and happy they feel at the end of the two-hour session. It is truly like a makeover for the spirit!”

Cancer specialist Dr Carol Benn goes one further: “Attending a LGFB workshop is just as important for our cancer patients as is their chemo or radiation treatment,” she says.

Volunteer got first-hand experience

In one of the twists so beloved by fate, says Ohlhoff, “little did I know that I myself was sitting with a tumour”. When it was diagnosed, her treatment involved both radiation and chemotherapy, so the enthusiastic volunteer unwillingly got first-hand experience of the side-effects she had been talking about.

“Because of my volunteer work, I was far better prepared than most patients,” she says now. “I think I was stronger for it.”

And that, absolutely, sums up the LGFB message. Engage with what life throws you, and the obstacles are so much less overwhelming.

(Heather Parker, Health24, October 2010)

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