Look Good Feel Better Volunteer Treats Cancer Patients ‘Like Princesses’

Written By:Stacy Simon

"I want these ladies to experience this program and know they're not alone in their journey. My mom felt very alone, and I don't want them to feel that way."

Tina Malphrus

When women arrive for the Look Good Feel Better workshop at Novant Health Huntersville Medical Center in North Carolina, they find a room brightly decorated with linen tablecloths, flowers, and – depending on the month – holiday frills. Program facilitator Tina Malphrus says, “Those ladies see sterile walls, nurses, and doctors all the time. I want to treat them like they are princesses for the day.”

Look Good Feel Better, a cooperation with the American Cancer Society, the Personal Care Products Council Foundation, and the Professional Beauty Association, is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. This free, community-based service helps women learn beauty techniques to help restore their appearance and self-image during chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

Malphrus, a licensed cosmetologist, has been a volunteer Look Good Feel Better facilitator for 12 years, and a trainer for 10. She teaches cancer patients ways to manage hair, skin, nail, and body changes that result from treatment side effects. Lessons include applying makeup to cover dark circles under the eyes, making a turban out of a t-shirt, and what to wear with a port or prosthesis. Cosmetics companies donate makeup kits to the women, and Malphrus refers them to the American Cancer Society office or Buddy Kemp Cancer Support Center in Charlotte to check out wigs, scarves, and turbans for free.

But according to Malphrus, the most meaningful service the program provides is helping the women regain confidence and make new connections. “Being able to come in there and do girly stuff is just an added bonus to seeing them interact with each other and draw strength from each other,” she said. Often, the women share their experiences – starting with Malphrus’ assistant, Carol, a breast cancer survivor. “I have Carol tell her story and they realize we can relate to them,” said Malphrus. “I want these ladies to experience this program and know they’re not alone in their journey. My mom felt very alone, and I don’t want them to feel that way.”

A way to help cancer patients

Malphrus was just 15 when her mother was diagnosed with stage IV cervical cancer in 1988. “As an only child, I had to grow up pretty fast,” said Malphrus. She helped her mother with driving, showering, and walking while her father was at work. Despite aggressive treatment, Malphrus’ mother lived only 1 year after her diagnosis. She died in 1989 at age 34.

After high school, Malphrus considered becoming a nurse, but opted for cosmetology school, and found she loved styling hair. Then a friend told her about Look Good Feel Better, and during her first training session, she was hooked. She realized she didn’t have to be a nurse to help cancer patients. “I thought, ‘This is perfect. I can work with cancer patients and I don’t have to put a needle in them.’” Malphrus says she takes her role very seriously. “I give it 100% because my mom was not able to go through this program before she passed away. If she had had the opportunity to go through this, I know how much it could have helped her.”

In 2003, Malphrus’ dedication to the program was strengthened even more when her aunt was diagnosed with brain cancer. Malphrus was able to help her aunt with Look Good Feel Better techniques before she died. Today, when Malphrus trains other facilitators, she reminds them to stay upbeat and give it that 100%. “I am so adamant that I want every one of those ladies to be treated how I would want my mom and my aunt to be treated if they were sitting there.”

Blessings from the journey

About 2 years ago, Malphrus won a State Sunrise Award for her volunteer work with Look Good Feel Better. Individuals are nominated for the award by peers and selected by committee.

“I cannot tell you how much this acrylic trophy means to me,” said Malphrus. I can’t even put it into words. This isn’t for me; it’s for my mom, my aunt, and for every other lady that has had to deal with cancer. It means the world to me.”

Malphrus says she gains strength from the patients she works with and feels blessed by them. “I thought I was going to be able to help these ladies, but they’re the ones who help me get through the day.”

“I’ve had the opportunity over the years to work with some great staff partners and I’ve met wonderful people and patients,” said Malphrus. “You never think that you will be blessed by cancer being a part of your life. But I can honestly say the journey I went through with my mom was a blessing because if I had not gone through that with her, I wouldn’t be as emotionally tied to it.”

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