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Outer Beauty Tips Lead to Inner Strength for Women with Breast Cancer

Resources for women fighting breast cancer that your doctor doesn't offer.

By the nature of its side effects, cancer treatment can make a private battle a very public affair. For a woman with cancer, having a bald head, pale skin or a missing breast can make her feel like she's being targeted by a bright spotlight and a banner that says, "Cancer patient."

But now more than ever, there are resources that will put the spotlight back on their work, their accomplishments and their life—and change that banner to simply read, "Woman."

The Cancer Support Center has wig boutiques at its offices at 2028 Elm Road in Homewood and 19250 Everett Lane in Mokena.

"Patients involved with any of our programs can come in to the Wendy Lark wig boutique in Homewood or the Hometown Hoedown wig boutique in Mokena and be fitted with a brand new wig free of charge," said Cynthia Turnquest, manager of community relations for the Cancer Support Center.

For information, call 708-798-9171 for Homewood or 708-478-3529 for Mokena.

"We have staffers on hand to help patients," said Turnquest.

The American Cancer Society also has a wig boutique in its office at 17060 Oak Park Ave. in Tinley Park.

"We have wigs, turbans and scarves," said Donna Lepinske, administrative assistant at the office.

"Cancer patients can make an appointment or just walk in," Lepinske said.

The wigs, turbans and scarves are free to cancer patients.

Lepinske said the Tinley Park office upgraded its wig boutique a year ago with help from Patch volunteers.

"We moved from a dingy room into one with a window and a new paint job and new furnishings," she said.

Doris Bauer has been selling wigs to cancer patients since 1974 and rents space two days a week at LTL Hair Designers at 16720 Oak Park Ave. in Tinley Park.

Bauer's company is called Discreetly Hair and provides wigs for women, men and children with cancer and other health issues. She said about 80 percent of her clients are cancer patients.

"I have a private room and see clients on Monday and Wednesday," she said.

Bauer said she also works with the American Cancer Society's Look Good, Feel Better program.

For information, call her at 219-922-8867.

Girl on the Go provides private or in-home wig consultations for women with cancer, with locations in 12 states, including Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, North and South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Wisconsin.

Breast cancer survivor Sheril Cohen started the business after her own struggles with hair loss that were matched only by the frustrating process of getting a wig.

"Wig shopping was awful," Cohen shares on her website. "[The attendant] tried to sell me this wig. I thought it was a cute cut, but I thought it made me older and unattractive. I cried. I felt sexy with my long hair. With this wig on I felt like a suburban fortysomething-year-old soccer mom. I was successful, single, a thirtysomething NYC woman. I wanted to retain me—not become someone I did not recognize."

Now Cohen proudly sells wigs of all kinds—synthetic, hybrid, human hair—to women all over the country, providing, as one of her clients says, privacy.

"I felt so like myself in my wig," said Ellen, a client. "No one knew. People who knew I had been diagnosed but did not know much else used to come up to me at events and ask when I was going to start chemo or if I had chosen a doctor yet. I did not have to tell anyone anything I did not want to tell them."

Cohen also blogs about topics like wig myths and when to stop wearing your wig. She even offers a formula for determining your wig budget.

As women in chemotherapy treatment discover, hair loss isn't limited to their locks. It means no eyebrows, no eyelashes and, as Cohen points out, one bright spot — no shaving.

Women can visit a lash studio to get back that feminine flutter of the lashes, and maybe even amp up their look with a few sexy, extra-long lash extensions.

Norene DeLaurentis is a breast fitter two days a week at Lynn's Boutique at the St. James Breast Cancer Center in Olympia Fields.

"We have prostheses and bras for women who have had any kind of breast surgery," she said.

"We work in a boutique setting," she said. "It's warm and colorful. Very feminine."

DeLaurentis said the boutique is well stocked with prosthetics, bras and bathing suits, and can usually find what a patient needs very quickly. The boutique was established 10 years ago in honor of Lynn Baumgartner Panici by her husband, Anthony, after she died in 2000 of cancer at the age of 34. The boutique is open Monday through Friday.

There also resources online for women who have had surgery during treatment. KA Mastectomy Bras and Apparel, started by survivor Kimberly Ashmand, features pretty and practical bras tailored to the unique needs of survivors, as well as some with a little lace and sparkle to help women feel sexy again.

Adopting a new look during treatment is about more than simply feeling good for the moment — it can be another weapon in a woman's arsenal against cancer, giving her a deep well of positivity to sustain her. 

Little Company of Mary Hospital's Breast Cancer Center in Evergreen Park has two programs for making cancer patients feel better about themselves. The center offers Mini Spa Treatments for cancer patients undergoing treatment. It includes massage, facials, manicures, pedicures, aromatherapy and Reiki (energy work). The treatments are offered Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and are free to cancer survivors and their loved ones.

The center also offers Look Good, Feel Better, a monthly program co-sponsored by the American Cancer Society. The program focuses on women who have learned to enhance their appearance during cancer treatment using make-up, wigs and scarves. Women receive a sample kit of make-up as well as dinner.

Look Good, Feel Better is available the second Monday of the month, from 3:30-5:30 p.m. Advance registration is required. It is free to cancer survivors and their loved ones.

The American Cancer Society also conducts its Look Good, Feel Better programs quarterly at the Cancer Support Center in Homewood.

TELL US: We want to know what matters most to you, whether it's lashes, lipstick or lingerie. Share in the comments section below what aspects of a makeover makes you feel the most beautiful. 

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