On Beauty Duty
Cancer patients find a sense of normalcy through spa and salon services at the Image Recovery Center
For Diane Schneider of Chalfont, Pennsylvania, sometimes the hardest part of cancer treatment isn’t the fear or feeling sick or even looking in the mirror. It’s how others perceive you.
“It’s devastating to lose all of your hair and you don’t look the same,” says Schneider. “And then when you see people, you don’t want them to have this look like they are so shocked to see you.”
Regaining a sense of self and self-esteem are the goals of the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center’s Image Recovery Center in the Asplundh Cancer Pavilion. This serene salon brings the amenities of a luxury spa to people coping with the effects of cancer treatment, from loss of hair to changes in the skin to having breasts surgically removed.
“It is about changing the perspective of what cancer is to people,” says salon coordinator Elizabeth Adderly. “They can walk out of here feeling as much like themselves as they did before treatment started. It gives them a sense of normalcy.”
The center is the first of its kind in Montgomery County and one of about 20 Image Recovery Centers nationwide. Complimentary services for patients include an initial head shaving; post-treatment haircuts; skin, makeup, and wig consultations; and a wig bank for those in need. Other services include post-mastectomy breast prosthesis fittings; lymphedema treatment; oncology massage therapy; nail, skin, and hair care services; and more.
“The consultation goes from head to toe—from hair to skin to eyebrows to nails to what type of SPF they should be using,” says Adderly. “The devil is really in the details when it comes to beauty care during cancer treatment.”
It is about changing the perspective of what cancer is to people. They can walk out of here feeling as much like themselves as they did before treatment started. It gives them a sense of normalcy.
“We recognize that a cancer diagnosis can affect many aspects of an individual’s life and that doesn’t stop when treatment ends,” says Steven J. Cohen, MD, chief of medical oncology and hematology at Jefferson Abington Hospital. “Our staff members are specially-trained to provide professional, high-quality services, with careful consideration for patients who may have a compromised immune system or low blood count stemming from cancer treatment.”
Simple routines—like hair and makeup—can have a positive impact on patients, with beauty regimes being bright spots in what can be a dreary journey through radiation and other therapies.
“It just relieves some of that stress, that constant stress you have,” says Mary Ellen Ruppert-Carroll, an elementary special education teacher in Bristol Township. “It’s relaxing, just being relaxed, forgetting about the stress. That hour, it’s awesome.”
According to Look Good Feel Better, a program of the American Cancer Society, 82 percent of female cancer patients experience changes to their physical appearance and 67 percent experience emotional changes. The center helps people fighting cancer see that they can still have a good quality of life while their body is changing and going through a transformation.
That transformation is sometimes deeper than outward appearance.
“It’s like a therapy session,” says Koryne Hill, retail product associate. “A lot of patients they feel comfortable to vent here because it’s not so hectic and not just about giving bad news all the time. And then it’s like when you go to the hair salon, you have girl talk.”
Many medically necessary services in the Image Recovery Center are covered by insurance. However, it is philanthropy that powers the center. Generous benefactors, including many former patients, have paid it forward through gifts that help patients receive wigs and other personalized recovery services they may not be able to afford otherwise.
“It’s extremely important for people to be able to look in the mirror and recognize themselves,” says Adderly. “When they come here, they see that one of their biggest fears can be helped. It’s huge.”