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U-M CCC - Progress Newsletter Fall 2003 Online

Pam James recently celebrated two milestones: her 45th birthday and the 60-day anniversary of her bone marrow transplant. Recently, reflecting on a visit to the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center for a very different kind of "treatment," James relayed the reaction others had to her appearance during chemotherapy: "When people see you pale, bald and without eye lashes, they want to sympathize. It's hard to deal with because you are trying to get better and people are still seeing you as being sick."

Now, a national survey conducted by Harris Interactive confirms that James is not alone. Cancer and its treatment are indeed life changing experiences that significantly affect women's lives, reports A Look Good . . . Feel Better Survey: Treatment and Its Impact on Cancer Survivors' Quality of Life. Among the key findings are that women with cancer experience significant changes in all aspects of life while undergoing chemotherapy and radiation. The study substantiates the impact cancer treatment has on relationships, the workplace and stress levels. Among its findings are some dramatic statistics, including the fact that 83 percent of women who experienced changes in appearance associated with treatment said that their overall quality of life was impacted. And more than half (55 percent) feared their lives would never return to normal.

"In our society, the way we look is connected to people's perception of how we're doing," says Lorrie Brach, M.S.W., a clinical social worker and social work manager in the Cancer Center. "Chemotherapy often changes the way a person looks in very visible ways. But when given the tools to look and feel better, patients can better deal with the symptoms of chemotherapy." In fact, the survey confirmed just that: 86 percent of women said that looking good helped them feel better, and seven in ten women felt that keeping up their appearance gave them more confidence to cope with cancer.

Look Good . . . Feel Better is a one-of-a-kind national cancer support program that helps women address the appearance-related side effects of cancer treatment. Lorrie Brach is the coordinator of the LGFB program at the Cancer Center, where classes are offered the first Monday of every month. Says Brach, "When a woman learns the skills to look better while she's going through treatment, it gives her control over who may know about her cancer, establishing a sense of privacy that she may not otherwise have. It also increases self esteem because she doesn't have to respond to the reactions of others to her cancer, only their reactions to her as a person."

Pam James attended a LGFB session just one week after leaving the hospital from receiving her transplant. "The class made a big difference," she says. "I was not really wanting to go out in public when I didn't have make up on. I just felt unusual." In addition to having lost her eye lashes, brows and all her hair, James feared using makeup because of the risk of getting something in her eye that could cause an infection, a concern since her immune system was compromised following her transplant.

In the LGFB class, James not only learned techniques to improve her appearance, but also how to sanitarily apply makeup and how not to contaminate her makeup. "Putting on makeup makes me feel better and I feel like it is the normal me again."

The two-hour LGFB sessions are packed with information, and attendees are given free product samples. "It was fun," says James, "I got to meet other people with similar circumstances and we could share stories. It made me feel that I wasn't alone." LGFB is offered nationwide, through a partnership with the Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrance Association Foundation, the American Cancer Society and the National Cosmetology Association. Classes are offered at the U-M Cancer Center on the first Monday of every month. Call (734) 647-8076 for more information. "It's hard to deal with because you are trying to get better and people are still seing you as being sick." Pam Jones

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Survey results

Appearance-related Issues:

  • 78 percent of women interviewed said they had experienced changes in their appearance due to cancer treatment
  • 66 percent felt that their quality of life in the area of their appearance was negatively impacted by their cancer treatment experience, and few women (10 percent) gave high ratings to their quality of life during treatment in the area of appearance Cancer and the Workplace:
  • 59 percent of women who worked during treatment said that, when at work, it was important to look as they did before treatment
  • 38 percent of women felt that their profession was negatively impacted by their cancer treatment experience

Relationships:

  • 73 percent of women said that their relationship with a spouse or significant other was impacted by their treatment experience
  • Additionally, women said that their relationships with friends (80 percent), parents (69 percent), siblings (64 percent) and children (59 percent) were also affected
  • Nearly half (47 percent) of women felt that people treated them differently as a result of their cancer treatment -- a statistic that was especially true among the women who had experienced significant changes in their appearance; of these women, 72 percent noticed different treatment from others
Overall Quality of Life:
  • 77 percent of women felt that physicians should recommend support programs to help enhance patients' quality of life
  • Three out of four women said that dealing with cancer had caused their stress level to increase

Harris Interactive conducted 267 online interviews among women treated for cancer in the last five years. Interviews were conducted using the Harris Interactive Chronic Illness Panel from July 30, 2002 to August 20, 2002. The margin of error for the sample of 267 was plus or minus 5.9 percentage points. Harris Interactive is a worldwide market research and consulting firm.

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This article is part of the Cancer Center's News Archive, and is listed here for historical purposes.

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