Charity helps women with cancer look and feel their best

Look Good Feel Better charity launches its first session at the Louise Hamilton Centre.Dionne Atkins

Look Good Feel Better charity launches its first session at the Louise Hamilton Centre.Dionne Atkins from the charity applying lipstick to Jean Swan.Picture: James Bass - Credit: James Bass

Amid a hubbub of cheery chatter a group of women peer intently into make-up mirrors.

The fact that some of them wear colourful bandanas is the only clue as to what unites them.

For all the ladies enjoying a morning's pampering at the Louise Hamilton Centre in Gorleston this week were recovering from, or having treatment for, cancer.

For most it has meant putting on a brave face for family friends and often neglecting their own needs.

But looking in the mirror can be a shocking reminder that they are ill.

Among those wielding the mascara wand hoping for some make-up magic was Emma Tills.

She was diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer at the age of 36 after suffering from chronic backache.

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The mother of two travelled to London for a 12-hour operation followed by chemotherapy and radiotherapy, not knowing if she would pull through.

As well as the devastating effects of the disease she was unprepared for the toll it took on how she looked and her self esteem.

This week she joined 15 women learning how to become themselves again, thanks to the Look Good Feel Better charity - and declared it great fun and a real boost.

To always do your lower lashes first and to 'feather' your lipstick were among tips handed out to the women of all ages, most of whom did not know each other at the beginning of the master class.

Each had a mirror in front of them and a bag of cosmetics that would help them to counteract the visible signs of treatment and tackle mini-traumas like clogged lashes.

The session had been brought to the centre for the first time by Pat Roberts who, with the help of Diane Armes from Boots in Great Yarmouth, amassed some products.

They were helped by two hairdressers from Fusion in Gorleston, Kayleigh Pawlowski-Hale and Montana Boast, who specialise in hair loss and wigs.

Mrs Tills, 42, of Oulton Broad, said: 'This has been a real giggle, it has really been lovely. You try to keep everything normal at home and from a mum's point of view you just want everything to be fine for the children. But this has been really relaxing. It feels like you are having a real treat and that is important. You are in a room where people know how you feel and there is no need to feel embarrassed.'

With her was Jo Pawlett, 42, from Lowestoft.

A year ago they set up Can-cervive, a cancer support group which embraces people with all forms of the disease and is celebrating its anniversary in March with a tea party at the centre.

Mrs Pawlett who is recovering from breast cancer after being diagnosed five years ago said the Look Good Feel Better group helped people to feel positive.

'Our main concern is the children which is why this is such a nice thing,' she added.

Kerry McCarthy, 43, from Lowestoft, had undergone a radical hysterectomy after a routine smear test flagged up concerns. She said the worst thing for her was telling her family. Although it did feel odd putting make-up on in front of other people she was passionate about the Louise Hamilton Centre in general and the way it brought people together.

Dionne Atkins, regional co-ordinator for Look Good Feel Better, said the aim was to tackle the visible signs of treatment like hair and eyebrow loss.

'The sessions allow them for two hours to think of themselves and feel better about the way they look. It was quiet at first but by the end it was bustling with a lot of energy,' she said.

Sessions have been running at Big C in Norwich for 20 years and the charity reaches around 120,000 women a year in the UK.

They cost up to £850 for 15 women and will run monthly at the Louise Hamilton Centre in the grounds of Gorleston's James Paget Hospital.

To donate, cheques made out to Palliative Care East can be sent to the Louise Hamilton Centre with Look Good, Feel Better written on the back.

To find out more about Can-cervive contact Jo on 07909924347 or Emma on 07788430669.

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