In pursuit of a cure, cancer patients must turn their bodies over to doctors, nurses and family caregivers. But the human touches that are ultimately meant to be healing – needle sticks for placement of chemotherapy lines and blood samples, positioning on the table for radiation treatments and imaging tests, and countless physical exams – often feel anything but soothing. The Beauty of Healing, a new salon-based program for women dealing with cancer that is helping patients at Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center, aims to inject a unique type of TLC into cancer care.
For one evening each month, the Jason Matthew Salon closes its doors to everyone but clients coping with cancer, who are treated to services and advice for the hair and skincare issues that tend to crop up during treatment – new haircuts, head shaving or wig styling to deal with hair loss, facials, massages, and makeup application to brighten tired eyes and dry complexions. All of the services are performed with an eye toward helping women buoy their self esteem, with a gentle touch to soothe the aches and pains that accompany some chemotherapy and radiation treatments. But the real goals far transcend offering women a fresh manicure and a sudsy shampoo.
“We try to reignite a spirit for them, and hope we can bring about some level of renewed hope,” says Joe Howe, who brought the Beauty of Healing program to Philadelphia after being involved in a similar venture with a salon he worked at in Ohio. “After everything they’ve been through, we just want them to be able to have a night of fun.”
Benson-Smith, however, wasn’t about to let Leach stay in that dark place.
“When you see that someone’s down and their bodies have changed as a result of their cancer, they need something like this,” she said. “Just feeling like a human being and not a patient for a little while can have a great impact.”
The day of the event, Benson-Smith called Leach again, and said she was sending a van to pick her up. The driver arrived and said, “I’ve been instructed not to leave you at home.” Reluctantly, she got dressed in a flashy gold jacket and climbed into the van. When Leach arrived at the salon in Center City, she still didn’t feel up to going – instead, she stood in the lobby downstairs crying for 15 minutes. But when she finally pulled herself together and entered the salon, she was in for a surprise: The salon personnel doted over her, with a facial treatment, a chair massage, and a manicure. The aches and tensions she’d been carrying in her body fell away, and by the time she left the salon, she was feeling “renewed and revitalized.” And the kinship she found with the other women who attended – also Abramson Cancer Center patients – was a powerful balm, too.
“I felt appreciated, like I was my old self again,” Leach says. “It was not only a healing thing for me, it was also inspirational because everybody there shared a story with me. I thought, ‘I’m gonna beat this, I’m really gonna beat this.’ They lifted me up.”
It’s makeup, not magic – but for Leach and the other women who attended the inaugural event, that few hours of pampering was enough to help them start fresh in their journey toward healing. 6ABC was there to capture our patients enjoying their special night -- check it out:
A Beauty of Healing event will be held tonight, April 27 – and on the last Wednesday of each month at 6 p.m. -- at the Jason Matthew Salon. Patients interested in an appointment during these special events may call 215-545-5055 for more information. On Monday, May 2, the Abramson Cancer Center will also host “Look Good … Feel Better,” a free program that teaches beauty techniques to women undergoing cancer treatment, to help them combat the appearance-related side effects of radiation and chemotherapy. The program will also be offered on July 11.