Appearance Matters

285- Appearance MattersPatients can benefit from services that address changes to physical appearance brought on by cancer treatment.

By Marianne Kelly

Breakthroughs in science and medical research are improving the outcome of many cancer treatments, and therapies to help manage side effects are making a real difference in quality of life for many patients. Despite these welcome advances, many patients who undergo treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery continue to experience side effects that result in changes to their physical appearance, which can be unwelcome and emotionally devastating.

I am no stranger to the impact of cancer treatments that affect physical appearance. As a teenager I lost my sister, Frances Ann, to leukemia and saw firsthand how the visible signs of her treatment had an emotional impact. In 1976 cancer struck again when my four-year-old daughter was diagnosed with leukemia. Although my daughter recovered fully, I again saw how dramatically cancer and cancer treatments could alter a person’s appearance and self-esteem—as well as the impact on the entire family of seeing the person you love so outwardly ravaged by their experience. And then, more than a decade later, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor and suffered the physical and emotional trauma of brain surgery.

Throughout my and my family’s experience, I was aware of the lack of support and education available to address the majority of body-image issues that cancer patients experience. It was during my own journey with cancer that I became determined to make a difference. As I underwent many months of rehabilitation, I began to envision what it would mean for patients to have a team of experts assisting them with image-related issues during this devastating time. The more I considered the positive impact that this could have on patients’ emotional well-being, the more passionate I became about creating such a resource.

Having come through my own treatment and recovery supported by my wonderful family, and with my daughter as my greatest inspiration, I launched the first hospital-based Image Recovery Center® in 1993 with the goal of offering extensive educational resources related to appearance changes as well as hands-on services to address hair loss, skin and nail changes, post–breast surgery needs, and lymphedema needs in a hospital setting. In the years since, as we have grown and launched additional centers in hospitals around the country, I have continued to dedicate my life to researching ways to provide the safest products and services available to help survivors manage image-related concerns during treatment and beyond.

Though we have seen firsthand the positive impact of our services, it has been gratifying to also see an increase in recent years in research detailing the psychology of appearance and the impact on overall well-being, as well as the recognition that appearance plays a role in how we judge others and ourselves.1 As appearance and body-image research continues, we hope that more patients will benefit from care that acknowledges the role that appearance can play in maintaining well-being.

There is no doubt that the physical changes that can result from cancer treatment are significant, ranging from hair loss (including eyebrows and eyelashes) to skin changes to imbalance in body shape due to surgery. Services that address these changes, including education in the application of healthy skin care and makeup products and properly fitted prostheses and intimate apparel, can make a real difference in the way a patient feels about her appearance and her overall sense of well-being. I feel so honored to have played a role in offering these services to patients, who in my view are truly courageous heroes. Nothing feels better to me than to witness the transformation they experience as they shed the despair and the depression brought on by appearance-related issues and are able to again embrace courage, hope, and a positive attitude.

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Marianne Kelly is a certified image consultant with specialized training in makeup application, color analysis, and wardrobe planning; a licensed professional hair designer certified in clinical cosmetology; and a certified mastectomy fitter. She is an expert in self-esteem rehabilitation through image enhancement and has been recognized for her expertise by the American Hospital Association. She is a past recipient of the Governor’s Award for Healthcare Volunteerism in Maryland and the J.C. Penney Golden Rule Award, and she has served as a board member of the Children’s Cancer Foundation. Marianne is currently a member of the Johns Hopkins Hospital Pediatric Oncology Friends organization and is often asked by medical facilities and organizations to speak on the appearance-related needs of cancer patients. In 2013 Image Recovery Centers celebrated 20 years of serving cancer patients.

1. Rumsey R. The psychology of appearance: Why health psychologists should “do looks.” The European Health Psychologist. 2008; 10: 46-50.