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Cancer survivor helps patients to ‘Be Beautiful’

July 8, 2019

BENNINGTON, Vt. (AP) — For those undergoing physically taxing cancer treatments, the side effects don’t end with nausea and other physical reactions.

They lose hair, and even eyelashes or eyebrows. Their skin can become discolored — sallow or very dry.

Lori Congdon, a local hairstylist and cancer survivor, aims to help lessen the emotional impact of physical changes for cancer patients with her free two-hour Be Beautiful classes, held the first Wednesday of every other month.

“Maybe you don’t feel like you look your best anymore,” Congdon said. “I feel like it’s so important for their morale for them to have confidence again, and feel good about themselves, even though they’re going through such a horrific time.”

At the most recent class Wednesday, three women learned tips for taking care of their skin and got a full makeup lesson, from concealer to eyeshadow to eyebrows.

Marlene Restino found out about the class from Rebecca Hewson-Steller, oncology nurse navigator at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center. She attended with her support person, Katie Austin.

Congdon started out with the basics — namely, skincare. It’s important to moisturize and always wear sunscreen, even if you’re only going to be outside for 10 or 15 minutes, she said.

The participants removed packages of eyeshadow, skin products and concealer alike from large brown paper bags of products Congdon provides for free.

“I’m really going to learn something,” Austin said, surveying the products. “I don’t do makeup.”

Austin asked Congdon if there’s any particular sunscreen she recommends.

“If it says dermatologist-tested on it — that’s a really good (one) to use,” she said.

Restino washed her face with cleansing wipes, Congdon helped her apply her concealer, saying she should start from the outside corner of her under-eye, using a tapping motion.

“Always use your ring finger,” she said. That’s because it has the least amount of strength, so it applies less pressure, she said.

Restino just completed radiation treatment, but she was told the side effects will not go away immediately. They include things like changes in skin color, or itchy skin.

Congdon also told participants the story of the impetus behind offering her classes. Nearly 11 years ago, doctors determined she had a tumor on her jawline. “We thought it was an infected bug bite,” she said. But eight days later, she was in surgery.

At first, she was told that she would need chemotherapy and radiation as well. “You just all of a sudden are like, ‘how did this happen?’” she said.

About two weeks later, she learned she wouldn’t need further treatment after all.

“I feel blessed, because they got all of it in surgery,” she said. “That’s why I do what I do pay it forward.”

Congdon’s classes are for those undergoing cancer treatment and their support person, according to a Facebook page advertising the classes. Besides makeup application, they also include lessons and demonstrations on head wraps with scarves and t-shirts and pointers to help with the effects of chemotherapy and radiation, along with tips on how to dress if you are losing or gaining weight from chemotherapy.

Congdon is a cosmetologist who has been a hairstylist for 36 years. She holds the classes at her salon, Studio 210 at 160 Benmont Ave.

Congdon previously offered similar classes under the American Cancer Society; after that organization ended the classes last year, she decided to start offering her own.

“I felt like it was really important to continue it for this community,” she said of the classes. “There’s a lot of women that need this help. I think it’s really imperative to have this confidence when you’re going through these treatments. So I thought, why not continue it?”

SVMC sponsors the classes, which are funded in part by the Cancer Center Community Crusaders.

A lot of the class is learning how to camouflage the things like missing eyebrows or eyelashes, Congdon said.

“Making yourself look healthy again makes you see yourself healthy, I think,” she said.

Patients love their time with Congdon, said Hewson-Steller.

“They have all mentioned that they like that it’s kind of interactive. It’s something they can learn to do for themselves,” she said. “It’s not just, I’ve had a nice day and I look nice now.”

Congdon teaches the participants take-home skills, and she also understands treatment can be financially challenging for patients, so she secures funding to give them brand-new cosmetics at no charge, Hewson-Steller said.

“Lori creates a really safe environment for cancer patients to have fun with beauty,” she said.

And, she said, Congdon empowers them to feel good about themselves regardless of whether they’re wearing makeup.

Congdon also runs a nonprofit wig bank that services the tristate area, Locks by Lorianne Inc., providing free wigs to patients in cancer treatment. She previously acted as a wig bank for the American Cancer Society for about three and a half years.

Online: https://bit.ly/2NJn0W4