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Going through cancer treatment is an emotional process, Benvinda Muinde said, recalling the distress she felt when she began losing her hair. But she said the support and kindness shown by others – even strangers – has been inspiring.
“It’s amazing the amount of people who want to help you to put a smile on your face,” Muinde said, as she in front of a mirror at the N.C. Cancer Hospital at a workshop held as part of the American Cancer Society’s “Look Good, Feel Better” program.
At the workshop, Muinde joined other women who are undergoing cancer treatment to learn about techniques and approaches, including using scarves, to address image-related side effects of cancer treatments. And, thanks to a donation of 50 handmade silk scarves, she and others had a colorful silk scarf to take home.
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“It’s the beauty of it, and how the patients feel when they lose their hair, and just what they go through, and then how they are transformed by these beautiful scarves,” said Jan Halle, MD, a retired radiation oncologist who returned to the N.C. Cancer Hospital and UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, where she had worked for 37 years, to deliver the scarves. She was part of a group of volunteers who, led by textile artist Marguerite Gignoux, dyed, printed and sewed the scarves.
Gignoux hosted a series of scarf-making sessions at Mulberry Silks & Fine Fabrics in Carrboro, at Penland craft school in the mountains of North Carolina, and hosted a workshop at Halle’s own business, the country store and coffee shop Johnny’s Gone Fishing.
“Each scarf – it’s like, ‘I want this one! No, I want that one!’” said Loretta Muss, coordinator of the N.C. Cancer Hospital Patient & Family Advisory Council, as she helped Halle sort the scarves and lay them out on a display table so the women could choose one. Halle concurred. “There’s too much to choose from.” she said as she pulled them out one by one. “Each one is an ‘ooh!’”
As part of the workshop held in cancer hospital’s Patient and Family Resource Center, Muss demonstrated how to tie a scarf around the head as a wrap, and how drape it across the shoulders and attach it with a sparkling pin. Worn around the neck, the eye is drawn to “this spectacular almost piece of jewelry,” she said of one colorful scarf.
“These scarves are so unique, and are truly and art form,” she said. “When women lose their hair, it can be devastating. Our hair and our hair styles define us sometimes, so I like to give women options to look fabulous.”
Amy Kimmy, a breast cancer survivor who now volunteers to lead the workshops, showed the women how to make a head covering made out of a T-shirt with the sleeves cut off, and how to wear comfort caps and baseball caps.
“You’re sparkling,” Kimmy said, after she showed one participant how to adorn a soft pink cap with a sparkling scrunchy.
The workshop also offered tips for women on types of safe cosmetics, and makeup application. Gail Markland, a hairdresser in Chapel Hill who volunteers at the workshops each month, showed the women how to draw in their eyebrows if they lost them during treatment, as well as how to use eyeliner and eye shadow.
Markland said in addition to learning makeup tips, the workshop also builds connections and community between women who have a shared health experience. “Sometimes, I feel the makeup is a conduit for the support they receive,” Markland said.
For Muinde, dealing with the physical changes caused by cancer can be difficult, but she’s found amazing support throughout the process. “It makes me want to be a better person to put a smile on someone else’s face, to give a little joy because total strangers have been doing it for me,” Muinde said.