How To Help A Cancer Patient, Part II

June 17, 2010 at 8:27 PM (Hair, Mood, style, Treatment) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

With apologies to the layperson, this post is full of advice for patients.

I was never a product junkie. While I like makeup as much as the next girlie-girl, I can’t bring myself to pick up the latest eye shadow colors every season, nor to drop serious coin (which could be better spent on clothing or leather goods) on department-store or boutique cosmetics. Basics are really all I need, and a few hair products.

Any cancer patient will tell you that this just can’t be. Whether you’re stocking your medicine cabinet with countless orange bottles to counteract the side effects of your side effects, or piling on makeup to cover your ghostly pallor, the best home improvement dollars spent in my house would be to supersize the master bathroom to hold all my crap. (In my defense, it is only slightly larger than your average phone booth.) And while it may be hard to keep track of all the funny names on the orange bottles, and remember what product to apply to which body part and when, some of the jams and jellies I have found to be real lifesavers.


Depending on which treatment you’re receiving, your skin can be sensitive, ashy, dry, flaky, greasy, or broken out. I was lucky enough to encounter all of them, often simultaneously, which made amelioration a sophisticated juggling act. For my extra-dry body skin, I was given a sample of LindiSkin Soothing Balm. LindiSkin is a company that offers a range of products specifically created for cancer patients. Light on chemicals and gentle on sensitive skin, the Soothing Balm restored my so-dry-I-itched-til-I-bled skin last spring with a gentle scent and no trace of irritation. They also offer a range of facial products, although the rich Serum was too rich for my face. But the lotion is delightful, cancer or not, and the company’s dedication to cancer patients is impressive.

I also found solace for my cracked feet in a tub of good ol’ Bag Balm. Yes, sleeping with the air of lanolin issuing from your cotton socks may put the damper on romance, but so does having ogre feet. A week of regular shower-pumice-plus-lotion-under-socks, morning and bedtime, dials back the winter feet to survivable levels.

My fingernails are so weak that I can’t even squeeze a zit, but the short length gave me the courage to try some wacky colors for fun. Pedicures are practically a medical necessity, and I find that lying in bed staring at your feet is much more fun if your toes look cute. Treat yourself.


When you’re pallid and ashy with those tell-tale red rings around your eyes, there’s really no way to avoid catching sight of yourself in the mirror and feeling sick. So when you have the energy to stand up in front of the mirror for five minutes, I highly recommend painting some life back into your cheeks. Start by evening out the discoloration (age, sun spots, all heightened by hormonal fluctuations) with a good tinted moisturizer. I love the combination of age-fighting and sheer color in the Olay Definity Color Recapture. One step takes half the effort of two! Add a gel blush (powder just emphasizes the ashiness of chemo skin) and some mascara, and you look twice as alive as you did before you started.

Brows and lashes gone? I wish I had a magic-bullet solution, but there’s really trial-and-error required to find what works best for you. My first round of bald-face, I got a comprehensive eyebrow kit from Anastasia and used the stencil-powder-wax combo, which does a pretty good job of staying on all day (until naptime, anyway). Last summer I used a perfect-taupe eyebrow pencil from Sonia Kashuk, but for some reason my eyebrow sweat glands (who knew we had ’em?) kicked into overdrive and I reapplied about six times a day. The pencils are sprinkled all over my house and car and purses. For my lashes, I compensated with a tapered line of dark-brown eye pencil on the top lid, since there was no way I could make a line of falsies look like anything other than a caterpillar parked up there. I like the Revlon ColorStay because it lasts most of the day, but really, there’s no way to hide the lack of eyelashes. I missed them the most.


I’ve heard lots of anecdotal stories that chemo hair grows back in curly on nearly everyone. It certainly has for me – I’m trying to decide if I like it better than baldness. Anyway, I have an enormous collection of different hair products for the many lengths my hair has been over the past four years. Gel for the slicking-back of humidity-one-inch ‘fro; waxy pomade for a little control of the two-inch-straight-up-not-quite-curls. The gold standards for all styles, though, are the Frizz-Ease line. I use the shampoo and conditioner, but use your favorites. Start post-shower treatment with the serum no matter what the length; it keeps down the frizz to manageable levels. I’ve got long-enough hair now that I can use the Curl-Perfecting Spray, too – it definitely make the curls cool instead of Napoleon-Dynamite crazy. NO HAIRBRUSH in the curls, EVER. Got it?

Next, we’ll talk about lifesaving products for your innards. Got any favorite skin/hair/face products to share?

How To Help A Cancer Patient, Part I

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  1. Amy said,

    Neat post! Not battling cancer here, but I’ve used the Frizz Ease line for years. It’s all wonderful, but I love the serum the best for my Troll Doll-like hair. Works best if you comb it with a fine comb over towel-dried hair. That way you get the best and most even coverage. If I want curl control as well, I comb through a bit of some whatever gel stuff I have hanging around first, then the serum after.

    FE’s Serum is great, but if the cost gets to you, there are a some others that are just as good for a few dollars less at the drug store. Important if you are throwing it on every day.

    Love you!

  2. cindy novick said,

    Best body moisturizing cream that I have ever used is “Yes to Carrots”..comes in a big jar…feels like silk after it’s smoothed in…hardly any fragrance at all…and it has improved the look and feel of my skin after using for just a few weeks…now I am on my 4th jar…my bum is coming close to feeling like my toddler’s! (-;

  3. WhiteStone said,

    Thanks for the product advice. Will look for the brow and eyeliner pencils…not happy with my current. And the stuff for frizzy hair! Dang! Never thought of that…will have to wait until November to try it, but looking forward to easing the ringlets I had last time.

    Hope you do well on the trial.

  4. Ann said,

    I love Bene-tint (by Benefit Cosmetics) for putting color back in your cheeks. It lasts all day, looks natural and smells like roses. One bottle will last forever too.

    I also found the gel brush on eyeliners are great for faking a lashline. Hip makes some nice ones but they dry up if you leave the pot open even a short time so close it tight.

    My hair is growing back – I had my first trim 2 1/2 months out of chemo. My hair is weirdly curling at the back of the neck and straight everywhere else, making me look a bit like bozo the clown. I have used an industrial strength spiking glue to try and flatten it out with no luck. When it gets a bit longer, my stylist will put a relaxer on the curly part to make it all even. Unless the rest of it starts curling, of course. Since I am not getting back into the dying routine yet – I could end up looking like a sheep. It came back white! It wasn’t white before, I swear. I discovered they make shampoos with violet coloring in them to highlight silver hair. I won’t be using it forever but for now, no point in dying it.

    My stylist dyed my eyebrows dark to give my face definition.

    I’ve been using Latisse since a week past my last chemo and I have no more gaps in my lashes and a few are getting really long. It won’t be long before I can wear mascara and not have to worry about blank spaces.

    With the silver hair and “pixie cut” (ha ha) I am having a hard time adjusting to this new person I see in the mirror every day.

  5. Denise said,

    I thought I was going to dodge the eyelash/brow loss bullet… But no. Losing them was almost as bad as losing my hair. It truly made me look alien and I felt like I lost the last vestiges of who I used to look like.

    However, I too hated the caterpillar-like look of the false lashes and only wore them once.

    What worked REALLY well for me was a waterproof liquid eyeliner for the lash line. I would either dot it along the lash line or do a thick sweep and then brush some eyeshadow over the line to soften it.

    For the brows, quick upward strokes of a pencil to mimic hair growth. The thing with this is NOT to worry so much that they are absolutely identical. My real eyebrows rarely were so this wasn’t something I was concerned about. I just wanted a frame for my eyes.

    Follow the pencil with a very small paintbrush to apply a matching powder eyeshadow to help “set” the penciled in brows. THEN cover the whole eye make-up job with translucent powder using a large blush brush.

    I guarantee, if you do it this way you will be able to wake up in the morning or after dozens of naps — with brows.

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