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Allean Abercrombie looks on while Spc. Christina Beck applies makeup at a "Look Good... Feel Better" program at Landstuhl Army Regional Medical Center. In the background is Carrie Fenner.
Allean Abercrombie looks on while Spc. Christina Beck applies makeup at a "Look Good... Feel Better" program at Landstuhl Army Regional Medical Center. In the background is Carrie Fenner. (Lisa Horn / S&S)

LANDSTUHL, Germany — Laughter echoes from a small, overcrowded conference room at the Landstuhl Army Regional Medical Center, where the gathered women share one thing in common — cancer.

This is not a typical cancer support group, however. Bonding with others in similar situations is only part of why the women come to the monthly session. They want to look better, too.

Wearing smiles and fresh makeovers, the women emerge from the room energized to beat the disease in them.

Landstuhl’s first “Look Good ... Feel Better” session was held in May, according to Lyn McNulty, program coordinator and Landstuhl head oncology nurse.

The program started at two centers in New York and Washington, D.C., in 1989. Since then, more than 350,000 women have participated in “Look Good ... Feel Better” sessions now offered around the world.

With sponsorship from the American Cancer Society and donations from cosmetic associations, volunteer cosmetologists, such as the Landstuhl program’s Pat Davidson, teach women beauty techniques to cope with skin changes and hair loss, which may result from cancer treatments.

“They’re going to do their makeup, but I’m going to kind of lead them, help them along with it and give them ideas as to how they might apply their makeup to make themselves look as well as possible,” Davidson said. “Look good ... feel better, right?”

Landstuhl has had 400 new cancer cases diagnosed over the last 2½ years, according to the hospital’s chief of oncology and director of its breast cancer center, Dr. (Maj.) Joseph Flynn.

That number does not include patients who come from the Würzburg and Heidelberg hospitals for chemotherapy, nor does it include patients who undergo chemotherapy at Landstuhl but may have been diagnosed in German facilities or in the United States.

“If you look at just cancer in general, the most common cancer we have is breast cancer,” Flynn said. “One in eight women will get breast cancer in the U.S. and we probably have a representative population for that.

“We are able to treat virtually any malignancy here. Dr. [Tim] Murphy and I are here now and I can’t think of a tumor that we wouldn’t take care of,” Flynn said. Murphy is chief of hematology and oncology services.

Flynn and many of his patients were present at the group’s most recent meeting on Sept. 30. Flynn’s rapport with his patients was obvious as he joked about getting his own makeover.

“Anything that you can do that can actually pamper people I think is a good thing,” he said. “That’s what this is: to help people get out the door in the morning. It’s from all different levels that we try to do that.”

Army Spc. Christina Beck, knows that keeping things light is important. She has had three recurrences of cervical cancer since her first diagnosis in 1999.

Of the program, she said, “You see all the women and they’re laughing. Even the instructor can’t get everybody’s attention because everybody’s all happy. It’s really good to have everyone come around who’s been through a little bit of the same as you,” she said.

The mood of the LRMC oncology ward is not much different, either, she said.

“I swear it’s like a comedy club up there sometimes,” Beck said.

“You come in thinking it’s going to be like an after-school special, people coming in totally bald, but that’s the thing,” Flynn said. “You want them to live a normal life. You don’t want them to sit at home feeling crappy and looking crappy. You want them to function. They’re mothers, they’re spouses, grandmothers.

“People can come in and get the chemo and move on. And live their lives.”

Anyone wishing to attend the next meeting of “Look Good ... Feel Better” can call McNulty at DSN 486-6288 or civilian 06371-866288 for details.

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