“I was so pale and so ill looking but they made me feel human again,” says Flora Milne, a sprightly 77-year-old from Inverness who says a make-up workshop run for people living with cancer helped her to cope with the rigours of gruelling treatment.
Flora is just one of a growing number of women, men and young people across the north and north-east who say they have got their confidence, self-esteem and identities back after attending a Look Good Feel Better workshop.
Led by a team of kind-hearted volunteer beauticians and make-up artists in venues including Maggie’s Highlands in Inverness, Maggie’s Aberdeen, CLAN Cancer Support in Shetland and online, the free workshops help people to restore their appearance and self-image, during and after cancer treatment.
Your Life chats to four stoic women from across the area who say the charity workshops have changed their lives.
Flora Milne, Inverness
Vivacious, full of fun and with a cracking sense of humour, nothing can easily dull Flora Milne’s positive spirit.
But after being diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer which subsequently led to her losing her hair, eyebrows and eye lashes due to the ‘awful’ side effects of chemotherapy treatment, Flora from Balloch, lost a lot of confidence.
It was during a visit to the Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centre at Raigmore Hospital that she first heard about the Look Good Feel Better workshops.
“I was a wee bit nervous about going along as I was feeling so awful with the chemo and I had a bald head and no eyebrows,” says Flora.
“So I arrived a bit scared but I relaxed as soon as I got there as I met about eight other ladies who were going through similar situations.
“It really helped my self-esteem because I had no confidence.”
Boosts self-esteem and confidence
During the workshop, the women were given bags of beauty products while the charity’s volunteers talk through skincare and make-up routines specifically designed for people who have undergone cancer treatment.
“It really was fantastic as they really taught us how to look after ourselves,” says Flora.
“We talked about what had happened to our skin and hair as a result of chemotherapy and they showed us how to cleanse and moisturise and how to use make-up.
“We were also shown how to measure where our eyebrows had been and how to apply an eyebrow pencil.
“It boosted my self-esteem so much.
“I found it absolutely wonderful, I can’t tell you what it meant to me.”
Facing cancer with positivity
Fit and healthy, Flora, a retired mental health community support officer, first experienced cancer when her late husband Eric was diagnosed with head and neck cancer.
After nursing him at home during the final stages of his life, Flora says it was a blow when she was diagnosed with HER2-positive breast cancer in May last year.
“I had no lumps but I had little spots of blood in my bra so I thought I better go to my GP and within two weeks I was in Raigmore Hospital,” says Flora.
“It was surreal and it all happened very fast but the treatment was amazing.”
Stellar support from family and friends
Stoic by nature, Flora has faced every stage of her cancer treatment with good humour and a positive attitude.
“In July last year I had a mastectomy but I coped with it no bother at all,” says Flora.
“My surgeon and the nurses were brilliant.
“Your life changes and your body changes but there’s help to deal with it
“I have been left with a scar but I own my scar, I’m very proud of it.”
Although Flora is still going through treatment – three weekly injections of the cancer drug Herceptin – she is looking forward to the future.
“Next year I would love to go to Portugal with my younger sister,” says Flora.
With stellar support from her grown-up daughter Rachel, 54, and her lovely friend Jaye Rankine, who has brought her homemade soup every Sunday without fail, Flora feels very grateful.
Asked what advice she would give to others experiencing cancer, she says: “Don’t be frightened, stay strong because the care that you get is absolutely first class.”
Juliet Nicolson, Aith, Shetland
After her mum died of breast cancer at the age of 50, Juliet Nicolson knew that the lump she had found was likely to be the same disease.
The retired vet’s gut instincts sadly turned out to be right and the 64-year-old soon underwent surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
“I had about four or five months of chemotherapy which was pretty awful,” says Juliet.
“It was quite a tough regime and I lost all my hair as well as my eyebrows and eyelashes and I had a skin reaction as well to the drug.”
It was through an online Breast Cancer Now forum that Juliet discovered the Look Good Feel Better workshops.
“I attended an online workshop with about 12 ladies of all ages,” says Juliet.
“The majority of us were people who had never really used much make-up before but the lady who ran the workshop really took us right back to basics.
“You can’t underestimate how important your appearance is and how you look to other people.
“You don’t just want to look like a cancer patient, you want to look normal.”
Make-up class makes you feel better
Following the masterclass, Juliet, like all of the workshop attendees, received a bumper bag of goodies, brimming with make-up and skincare.
“The workshop does make you feel better,” says Juliet.
“It was lovely to get the bag of beauty products in the post too as using them has given me so much more confidence when going out and about.”
Despite still going for regular check-ups, Juliet is doing well.
“I would say that I’m back to my old energy levels and I’m busy and doing plenty of things so I would say that I’m through the worst now,” says Juliet.
Back enjoying all that life has to offer
Juliet, who has two grown-up children and two grandchildren, is back enjoying the things that bring her the greatest joy in life like spending time with her husband Jim.
“I’m quite outdoorsy, we’ve got two dogs so I enjoy walking them and we’ve got a big garden and I like working in the garden,” says Juliet.
“We’re going on holiday to Portugal for a walking holiday so we like to travel as well so it’s great to be able to do that.”
Thankful for the support she received from the charity, Juliet also wishes to pay tribute to the amazing Macmillan nurses at the Gilbert Bain Hospital in Lerwick where she received her chemotherapy treatment.
“They were amazing,” says Juliet.
Lynne Falconer, Inverness
As a detective inspector at Police Scotland in Inverness, Lynne Falconer’s life was busy to say the least.
But her world suddenly stopped when, the day before her 48th birthday, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I was going to the gym five times a week and I was busy and focused on my work but I found a lump in my breast,” says Lynne.
“I say a lump but it was more like a muscle thickening.
“So I went to the breast clinic at Raigmore Hospital on the 7th December last year, the day before my 48th birthday.
“I literally did my morning meetings in work, left my computer logged on expecting to go back to work and then walked across to the breast cancer centre myself, I didn’t take anyone with me as I didn’t think anything of it.”
‘It was a complete and utter shock’
That morning Lynne’s life came to sudden standstill.
“The consultant looked at my breast and sent me for a mammogram and ultrasound,” says Lynne.
“It was a complete and utter shock when they told me that morning that I had cancer.”
After receiving the news that she has triple negative breast cancer, Lynne was soon undergoing chemotherapy.
During this time, Lynne was supported by the amazing team at Maggie’s Highland who invited her to the Look Good Feel Better workshop.
“The workshop was amazing,” says Lynne.
“All of a sudden your life is all about treatment and hospital appointments so going along gave you that confidence to put a little bit of make-up on.
“Just feeling a little bit normal again for a few hours was amazing.
“I was obviously going through a lot of side effects as you get tired and ill so it was a nice wee boost.”
You are not alone
Meeting other women who were also going through treatment also had a profound impact on Lynne.
“Being able to go and see real people and get a bit of escapism it really does make a huge difference, it can’t be underestimated,” says Lynne.
Describing her cancer journey as a bit of a rollercoaster after being told her first round of chemotherapy and surgery hadn’t worked, Lynne says the cancerous cells have now gone.
“I do need quite a lot of preventative treatment over the next few months like radiotherapy and another round of oral chemotherapy,” says Lynne.
By her side through everything has been Lynne’s partner Wallace Gardiner, her daughters Beth and Lauren, her parents and her sister.
But she has a special place in her heart for her colleagues at Police Scotland.
“My Police colleagues have been absolutely amazing, I’ve had so many messages of support,” says Lynne.
Lynne is now looking forward to the future.
“I’d like to see more of the world as I haven’t done enough of that because I’ve been so busy with work,” says Lynne.
“This has been a bit of a reality check.”
Helen Mulgrew, Inverness
As someone who has been through the ups and downs of cancer treatment, Helen Mulgrew approaches her role as a Look Good Feel Better volunteer with an empathy as powerful as her fighting spirit.
After working for years as make-up counter manager in the former Debenhams store in Inverness, Helen jumped at the chance to give up her time to help at the charity’s workshops.
“We pushed for the charity to come to Inverness because we’d all heard about Look Good Feel Better and we wanted to help,” says Helen who has volunteered with the charity for 17 years.
“So I was there from the very beginning and I managed to volunteer at a few workshops but I had to step back as I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
“I went through radiotherapy which was rather brutal so I needed quite a while to recover.
“But once I did, I was back volunteering.”
Volunteering is the best feeling
Volunteering with the charity brings Helen so much joy.
“The ladies learn that they’re not alone as sometimes you can feel alone with illness,” says Helen.
“We don’t think of ourselves when we go through this so going to the workshop reminds them that just because they’re unwell ,they are worthy.
“They just go out the door glowing, it really is wonderful.”
For more information about the Look Good Feel Better workshops, phone 01372 747500, email email@example.com or check out their website lookgoodfeelbetter.co.uk