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Make-up helps peel away anguish of cancer

They looked nervous at first as they removed their wigs and turbans. Some covered their bald heads with their hands and barely uttered a word.

It had been too long since this group of seven breast cancer survivors had felt beautiful. Months of chemotherapy and radiation had taken their toll on their skin - and their confidence.

But an hour after receiving a beauty makeover yesterday to celebrate Mother's Day at Johannesburg's Milpark Hospital, and glowing with the sparkle of lipstick, eyeliner and eyeshadow, they felt like conquering the world.

The makeover was part of the Look Good Feel Better campaign, an international initiative sponsored by cosmetics companies. It teaches female cancer patients beauty techniques to help restore their self-confidence by countering the visible side-effects of chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

"Today I realised that I'm still pretty," said Rowena Aysen (39) as she wrapped her turban around her head.

"I realised that I still look nice, even with my bald head and no eyelashes - even without my breasts."

Her breasts were removed in a mastectomy last week after months of chemotherapy had failed to rid her body of cancer.

"When you are diagnosed with cancer you think that your life stops and you die an inner death. But I've realised that outer beauty doesn't mean anything. I look for the inner beauty in others. What does hair mean anyway?

"I really appreciate life now. The sky is brighter. The leaves are greener. I am so happy to wake up every day. I believe I'll be around until I'm 70."

Margaret Hewson, the national co-ordinator of the campaign, said cancer robbed women of their energy, appetite and strength but it didn't have to take away their self- confidence.

"When they are undergoing treatment, these women feel so vulnerable and like they have no control of their lives. Just that little bit of make-up makes them feel beautiful again."

For 40-year-old Betty Morare, undergoing her third session of chemotherapy, yesterday's treat was also a chance to meet fellow cancer survivors.

"Sometimes you feel horrible and alone. I've enjoyed talking to these women who understand what I am going through. I went to look at the mirror now and I couldn't believe it was me. I don't usually wear make-up but I love the new me," she said.

Karen Meyer agreed: "Today taught me to make the best of yourself. I feel much better. I don't feel like such a freak.

"Life is so temporary and you enjoy every minute. I have cancer but I look at it in a positive way. With today's advanced medical science, the chances are good. I am trusting God for a miracle."