Gillian Curtis was dreading an upcoming wedding, having lost her trademark long curly hair to chemotherapy.
The Whangaparāoa mother of two was the best friend of the groom’s mother, and wanted to go to the wedding not looking like a cancer patient.
“When my hair went, it hit me like a brick. I didn’t even like looking in the mirror,” the 48-year-old says.
So when a friend told her about Look Good Feel Better, she signed up hoping it would help her face the big day looking her best. The free service is available to anyone with any cancer at any stage and equips participants with tips and tricks to help disguise the effects of cancer.
“I had just finished chemo, I had no eyebrows, and hair that looked like a baby chimpanzee. So I did the class to try and see if I could actually could go out in public and not feel like I was scaring everybody.”
Armed with a collection of cosmetics and toiletries chosen to match her complexion, eye and hair colour, that was sent to her by the charity, Gillian logged on to a live Look Good Feel Better Zoom class – and says she immediately felt better.
“It is nice to meet people who are going through the same thing – there’s a certain amount of support that you get under those circumstances. You’re not talking about cancer as such, you’re talking about what you can do to make the best of the situation you’re in. You’re focusing on the positives and what you can do after, or during, the treatment.”
She remembers learning how to make the most of her dwindling lashes, while the few that remained dropped off during the hour-long session.
“I’m trying to put this eyelash extension stuff on and they came out in the brush. I burst out laughing,” she says. “Everybody laughed along with me – which was really lovely because it could have been a ‘burst into tears’ moment.”
Gillian found the face and make-up class so rewarding that she also attended one on eyebrows and another on scalp care, as well as watching refresher tutorial videos.
“You have lovely products so whenever you want to go out, you feel so much better than you did beforehand. It gives you more confidence.”
Armed with new-found skills, Gillian and her husband Dave went to the wedding – a two-day, three-ceremony Indian celebration, with Gillian feeling empowered.
However a bout of post-chemo nausea forced her to flee to the bathroom, and her tight wig on a hot day was fuelling a pending migraine.
“I was bawling my eyes out in the toilet and my son found me and told me that that I looked beautiful regardless, and nobody was going to care if I didn’t have any hair. And I ended up taking the wig off,” she says
Gillian doubts she would have had the confidence to do that, had it not been for Look Good Feel Better.
Gillian had a partial mastectomy and radiotherapy during her first bout of breast cancer in 2014. This time around, the new grandmother needed a double mastectomy and chemotherapy, and she is now on endocrine therapy.
“The first time with cancer I felt like it was a blip on the radar, where other people are experiencing way more than what I was so I didn’t really feel like I deserved to go.”
She wishes she had gone to the community classes at that time. The red setting of the Covid-19 Protection Framework means all classes are currently online.
“Having a Zoom meeting was probably preferable for me. The idea of going somewhere is quite exhausting. I had social interaction, a catch up with people and a really informative fun experience without having to drive somewhere and get home again. So, it was the best of both worlds.”
Dry July • Look Good Feel Better is one of three major beneficiaries of this year’s Dry July campaign. The others are the Prostate Cancer Foundation of New Zealand and PINC & STEEL. • Registrations are now open to take part in Dry July, which is raising funds for Kiwis affected by cancer. To register, visit www.dryjuly.co.nz