Sandy Hook's identity was turned inside out when she lost her left breast to a mastectomy.
During chemotherapy, a person with no hair, no eyebrows and no eyelashes reflected back to her in the mirror. Besides altering her physical image, the chemotherapy made her feel flashes of hot and cold.
"My hair fell out right away. I could deal with it until I saw myscalp. I looked like a skinhead," said the Joppa resident. "I wantedto look like I was before. It made you feel like you were a person again."
Luckily for Hook and many other women cancer patients in the county, the "Look Good . . . Feel Better" program sponsored by the Harford chapter of the American Cancer Society came to the rescue.
Seminars in the program demonstrate to women undergoing chemotherapyand radiation treatments how to create the "illusion of beauty."
The cancer society has put the program together with help from the National Cosmetology Association and the Cosmetic, Toiletry and FragranceAssociation Foundation.
"We create an illusion of beauty, becauseyou ought to see us when we get up," explains Edgewood cosmetologistRegina Quinn, a volunteer in the program. "You know how it is with us girls, as long as we have some height (in the hair) and a little lipstick, we're ready to go."
Quinn has operated for 18 years Quinn's Hairstyling and Skin Care in the Ames Shopping Center on U.S. 40.
She volunteers time and knowledge about beauty as an instructor in the "Look Good . . . Feel Better" program, and is the only cosmetologist certified for the program in Harford County.
Many of the physicaltraits that society considers important to a woman's beauty, such asnice skin and long fingernails, often are adversely affected during treatment for cancer. Women treated with chemotherapy often see theirskin turn yellow or pink and feel their nails turn soft.
"We're hear to let you know you don't have to go through that," Quinn told those gathered in a recent "Look Good . . . Feel Better" seminar held for Harford residents.
Along with 20 others from Maryland, Quinn wascertified by the ACS last year to show cancer patients how to look good, and thus lift their spirits, during medical treatments for cancer.
The program also available to men fighting cancer, though the program most often sees women taking part.
Quinn says she aims to teach women that they can be in control of their appearance.
To do so, you just need to know a few tricks.
For example, Quinn shows women how to use wigs and turbans to stay "in vogue" with fashion.
Wigs are now made of synthetic fibers or mixed with real, human hair,making them light on the head.
Wig styles vary widely and can be adapted to what each person needs.
For instance, some wigs are "hair intensifiers" for patients who still have some hair, while others are full and thick. Most wigs can be kept curly or straight with little care.
Quinn says she can match almost any hair color, from pitch black to Madonna-like platinum.
A wig can be kept fresh from perspiration and odors by wearing a "wig cap" underneath. At night, the wig can then be placed on a stand to let air circulate under it.
Velvet pads can be fitted under the wig to stop it from itching. In short, Quinn tells patients, wigs are no longer the "helmets" they werein the 1960s and should be taken advantage of during cancer treatment.
Quinn's daughter-in-law, Donna Quinn, assists in the seminars.
Donna Quinn shows women how to hide wrinkles and brighten up the shadowy patina put on their faces by illness.
She recommends a vitamin-E stick as the quickest and easiest moisturizer for the face. Shesaid that seeing a healthier reflection in the mirror makes cancer patients feel better and lifts their spirits.
Many cancer patients check themselves frequently in the mirror just to be sure they look OK. Not to worry, the Quinns say, for on the road to recovery, hair usually comes back shinier and fuller.
The "Look Good . . . Feel Better" sessions also promote networking between women who have experienced the anxiety of losing their femininity and possibly their life.
Hook, who says her cancer has been in remission for six months, is among the cancer patients who now join the program to give moral support to others.
Bel Air resident Marlene Brown, battling cancer for six years, is among those who have found solace in Hook's help and thetip she's learned in Quinn's seminars.
Brown had one breast removed six years ago and lost her other breast four years ago. The canceris back again, but since the doctors cannot operate this time, she is undergoing chemotherapy.
"This time, I've had a rough time dealing with it," said Brown. "It's amazing how many tests you can go through and still . . . it is like the unknown." Hook advises people to follow these steps after learning they have cancer:
Admit it; say it out loud. Then become informed on the disease and how it is treated. Next, ask for help from professionals in treatment and counseling.
Quinn urges people who are diagnosed with cancer to learn how to make themselves look better in the beginning of treat
ment so they willfeel better later.
She decided to become certified to work in theprogram after several clients at her beauty shop were diagnosed withcancer.
Certification to teach cancer patients how to look betteris open to any licensed cosmetologist.
American Cancer Society field representative Julie Howell said the purpose of certification is to teach cosmetologists what cancer patients are dealing with emotionally. It also helps to ensure cosmetologists will not just sell products to people who are emotionally vulnerable, she said.
The next "Look Good . . . Feel Better" program will be held tomorrow at the Harford Memorial Hospital, Havre de Grace, from 2 to 3 p.m.
All sessions are free. For more information on "Look Good . . . Feel Better" or certification, call the American Cancer Society at 931-6850.