For those diagnosed with cancer, sometimes looking good can be the last thing on their mind. But volunteers and charities across the county are giving cancer patients new-found confidence and making them feel great with special makeovers.
Clemence Michallon and Joe Gammie report

MAKE-UP may seem trivial, but for women with cancer it can be a way to regain a sense of self.

Look Good Feel Better, a support charity with branches across the UK, has run beauty workshops in Oxford for 18 years.

Every chair was filled as 10 people came for a skincare and make-up workshop at Churchill Hospital’s Maggie’s Centre, a modern, attractive building where cancer patients find practical and emotional support.

Each received a white toiletry bag filled with all the products needed for a complete transformation, from make-up remover and toner to mascara and lip liner.

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Claire Marriott, head of the local Maggie’s Centre, stressed the importance of looking good for women who have cancer.

She said: “We encourage people to take control of the aspects of their care that they can. Through cancer treatment, women can experience changes. Their identity can be affected. A session like this helps them regain their identity. They’re not just a patient with a treatment. They’re the woman they were before.”

She added: “People arrive looking nervous, but we get lots of feedback and cards saying thank you.”

The workshops address common concerns for women dealing with the side effects of treatment.

Rebecca Rojas, a 31-year-old freelance make-up artist, started volunteering at Look Good Feel Better when several women asked her for advice after losing their eyebrows and eyelashes.

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Claire Acheson tries some lipstick at the workshop

She showed the women at Maggie’s Centre how to use eyeliner instead of mascara to give the illusion of eyelashes and how to shape the arch of their eyebrows while drawing them back.

Dr Marriott, who speaks regularly with women at Maggie’s Centre, said: “They’re prepared for the loss of hair, but when these come off they feel like their face has been taken away.”

Another frequent concern is the “chemo flush”, as treatment can dilate blood vessels and make the face and neck look red.

Heidi Bannister, Look Good Feel Better’s regional coordinator, explained how dabbing the skin with a green base before applying foundation can help. Green and red counteract each other, which evens out the skin tone.

Judith Nicklin, a 45-year-old maths consultant in Wallingford in treatment for bowel cancer, said: “I believe 50 per cent of getting better is mental attitude.

“Looking good and feeling good helps with that.”

She added: “It’s nice to get together with other people in the same situation.

“There’s an automatic bond when you know people who are going through the same thing.”

By the end of the workshop, all 10 women had applied a full face of make-up, with lipstick as the finishing touch.

“Most stayed afterwards to chat and spritz their wrists with the bottles of perfume included in the goody bag.

“At first, they don’t want to be here, and at the end they don’t want to leave,” Mrs Bannister said after encouraging the women to take the products home.

Claire Acheson, a 35-year-old mother-of-three, heard about the workshop through a support group on Facebook.

She said: “It was really good – especially the eyes. We got this amazing bag too. They did the make-up for us as well, which was nice.”

Amanda Bishton, a 53-year-old nurse at Oxford University Hospitals with breast and bone cancer, arrived feeling tired but left in a good mood.

She said: “It was marvellous. It’s nice to see everyone transformed.

“Everyone looks lovely. I didn’t expect all these wonderful products and I didn’t expect to find it as interesting as it was.”

She added: “Treatment drains you. It’s important to look good. You go through so much. It’s important to chat to people and know their stories. You don’t feel alone.”

Look Good Feel Better is looking for volunteers in Oxford.

Most have experience in the beauty industry, but the charity can train those who want to help. There is no age limit and sessions run once every month.

Katy Dyer, a personal stylist and image consultant in Thame, has been involved with Look Good Feel Better for over a year and has helped run eight workshops.

She said: “It’s about making a difference, however small, and giving people their sparkle back.”

“Just be yourself. We’re all women. We just have different challenges.”


THE Hummingbird Cancer Support and Therapy Centre, based in Launton on the outskirts of Bicester, supports those affected by cancer themselves and families through therapy and communal activity sessions as well as makeovers.

Volunteer AnnMarie Godwin, who is in remission after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011, said: “It is important because it knocks your confidence and is something that has to be experienced to understand, such as ladies that have lost their hair, especially your eye lashes or eyebrows.

“It is important to make people feel like their old self on the outside when the drugs are doing such horrible things inside your body. We have nail painting and shaping, hair advice and styling, make-up lessons and wig cutting and it all just helps build up confidence.”

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AnnMarie Godwin

Centre visitor Lynn Cooper, 66, of Launton, was diagnosed with colon cancer last October.

She added: “When you have got cancer you lose your identity.

“The make-up here is just fantastic. If you go through chemotherapy you need something to help you feel normal.

“Wearing headscarves and wigs can make people feel isolated, but when you walk out of the centre after treatments you feel relaxed and normal again.”


‘I’m still here, I’m strong and I can still look great’

A WOMAN with incurable breast cancer strutted her stuff on the catwalk to raise vital cash to battle the deadly disease.

Nathalie Niden took to the stage in a selection of outfits alongside 31 other models at the Breast Cancer Care charity fashion show on Wednesday.

The 28-year-old is going through her second course of treatment in Sweden, but lives off and on in Freeland, near Witney, with her partner of six years Jacob Brett.

She initially found a lump five years ago and was referred to hospital by her GP but a doctor at the breast cancer clinic in Bournemouth, where she was working at the time, told her it was simply hormonal and nothing to worry about.

But a year later Ms Niden began to feel very unwell, so she went to see a doctor in her home country of Sweden and was diagnosed with breast cancer.

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Nathalie Niden, 28, who has breast cancer

Ms Niden said she decided to do the fashion show after she met a young woman her own age last year who had done it previously.

She said: “She also had secondary breast cancer and she really inspired me and I took it to heart.

“She passed away, which makes it even more important to me to do it and continue what she started.”

Ms Niden was the youngest of four women with secondary cancer on the catwalk at London’s Grosvenor House Hotel, and was watched by hundreds of guests as she showed off four different outfits.

She said: “It was absolutely fantastic – beyond anything I could have expected.

“It was so nice to be pampered. It was a lovely group of ladies and men to share the catwalk with, and the support from the audience was unbelievable.

“A lot of women there, including me, gained a lot of confidence. I decided not to wear my wig and I had so many people coming up afterwards and saying how fantastic I looked. It was absolutely lovely.

“It’s nice to be pampered and think ‘This is still me and I can still look good even though I look very different’. You can be an inspiration for others. It’s very important to have these shows.

“One reason I did the fashion show is I am so young. Women my age can still enjoy going out and having long hair to twirl and wearing make-up. I wanted to say: ‘I am still here, I am strong, and I am enjoying it and I can still look great’.”

Sponsor Ms Niden by visiting