Judy Ann Barrett corrected herself mid-sentence.
“If — no, when I get through this ...”
For four months now, the Cleveland resident has lived with the title “breast cancer patient,” but she still finds herself doubting this new existence.
“Sometimes I find myself thinking, ‘I don’t belong here. This isn’t me,’” Barrett said.
She had spent her life making the right choices.
“I did everything you’re supposedly supposed to do,” she said. “I ate right. I exercised. Truly, I’ve been healthy as a horse my whole life. I never had a sick day hardly in my whole life. And then I had that mammogram, and everything changed. And now I have to focus on not ‘if’ I get through this, but ‘when.’”
With this focus and determination, Barrett found herself seeking fortitude in a place not necessarily expected: a beauty class.
In anticipation for dealing with her body’s reaction to chemotherapy, she recently attended a session of the Look Good Feel Better Program in Gainesville where volunteer beauty professionals talked about treatment’s impact on hair, skin and nails. Barrett and her fellow cancer patients and classmates learned about everything from choosing the right wig to how to tie a headscarf to moisturizing methods to applying eyelashes to wearing clothes in ways that minimize weight changes.
“When I first heard about (Look Good Feel Better), I thought, ‘Oh, that’s interesting,’ but I wasn’t really too excited about it ... until I got there, and then I was so impressed and had so much fun,” Barrett said. “It was just wonderful.”
She explained the tips and tricks about hair and clothes and makeup was fun, but it was the camaraderie that made it worth it.
“You all have the same hurdles to cross, and when you were there with other women who are going to lose their eyebrows or have all these other side effects, then you didn’t feel alone,” Barrett said. “It wasn’t a support group, at least not in the typical sense, but I felt so supported.”
Jennifer Roberts said that’s exactly the goal. And she’d know. Although she participates in The Look Good Feel Better program as a patient navigator with the American Cancer Society, she was a student not that long ago.
In December 2014, doctors diagnosed Roberts with breast cancer, and she quickly found herself hearing all of the words that had once only been heard by her patients.
“It was like, ‘OK. I’m on the other side now. I’m the patient now,’” she said. “And it was just weird. It was a shock.”
Where she once helped women too weak from their chemotherapy to tie their headscarves at the Look Good Feel Better Program, she now had someone helping her when her own hands wouldn’t do the work.
“I don’t even have the words for how wonderful of an experience it was,” Roberts said of the class. “We just had a really good time. We laughed. We joked. We just had a really, really good time. And to be there, laughing and watching other people laugh with you about the side effects, to find the humor of it all, it was just really special. It’s just not something that happens in other situations. (Look Good Feel Better) gave us permission to just have fun and laugh, and we needed that.”
“A lot of people, when they find out they have cancer, they don’t know if they’re going to live or die,” she said. “And you need to have confidence to be able to dig yourself out of that hole of doubt. And if you don’t have confidence about yourself, if you don’t feel good about yourself, then you can’t make it.”
For this reason (and, she admits, the generous goodie bag of free makeup products), Barrett whole-heartedly recommends the class.
“When you’re feeling down, you need to be uplifted, and this class will do just that,” she said. “This is one of those things you can do to feel good about yourself, and if you feel good about yourself, then you can make it, and you need to make it, because you have a purpose.”
She pauses, before adding, “If ...”
She pauses again, before correcting herself, “No ... when I get through this, if I can help someone else, then that’s what I’m going to do. Go to this class. Get uplifted. You can make it. I can make it. I know I’m going to live, because I have a purpose so why not go get that confidence? Because if you don’t, you’re sunk. It’s that important.”