I had retired in 2012 after an interesting career, starting as a secondary teacher and then working in government as a consultant across industries, including a major car manufacturer. I had been living the life of a perfectly normal 64-year-old woman and although things were getting more complex with increasing care requirements for my aging Italian parents, life was generally good. Like most women, my weight and the increasing wrinkles I saw in the mirror were my main concerns! I have a supportive partner, two wonderful adult step-children and a circle of friends – some who I have known since primary school. I am very much looking forward to becoming a step-grandmother and being called Nonna this year.

Retirement had taken some adjustment but as a number of other friends had also retired, I had settled into a routine of catching up with friends and regular walks to stay ahead of our expanding waistlines. I began to volunteer for a community health organisation which I greatly enjoyed, particularly as I got to work with an amazing team of dedicated young people. As my private life involved the hands-on care of my parents, my volunteer work allowed me to use my corporate skills.

At age 64 I had never had an overnight stay in a hospital. There had been a few small day procedures but, as I had been so healthy my whole life, my diagnosis was a shock.

During one of my daily walks with a friend I mentioned I’d been feeling a slight sensation in my lower stomach. Over several weeks the sensation continued and although I wasn’t in pain, I wondered if I might be getting appendicitis so went to my local GP.  She sent me to get an ultrasound, which quickly led to a CT scan, a meeting with an Oncologist, a COVID test and preparation to go into hospital.

The operation went well and I had wonderful care but, despite having read all the materials I had been given on ovarian cancer, when they told me along with a hysterectomy they had removed a 16 cm melon shaped cancerous tumour, I didn’t really process it all.

Once my Oncologist had all my post-operative results and told me my ovarian cancer was relatively low level and that I had been lucky, I finally lost it and cried for many hours. I think I slowly recovered when I saw how relieved family and friends were. The level of love and support that came my way was overwhelming and confirmed what really matters in life.

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) this process did lead to a second cancer diagnosis of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia (CLL).

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Look Good Feel Better virtual workshops. We were still in lockdown and I was lucky to be given a wig, but just couldn’t get it to sit properly on my head (or stay there). I am not a hat person and knew the hats I had were not appropriate, and I had never put a scarf on my head successfully. I was quite nervous about how I was going to manage to go out in public and what the reaction might be. I felt okay with make-up but then realised not having hair, eyebrows or eyelashes is a game changer and I needed help.

The workshop really helped me with regards to wigs, scarves and hats – how to wear them and where to buy them. I busily wrote everything down and used most of the information afterwards. The makeup workshop was excellent too and showed that when you look different to how you normally do, you need a different approach and different products.

The facilitator was knowledgeable and really practical. I liked that she covered where to get really stylish (and often expensive) hats, scarves, make-up but also knew that there were great products that we could get at Priceline and Kmart! It was also really good to see and hear from other participants as you realise women everywhere are dealing with the same thing. They were able to pass on great tips from their first-hand experience and I have since tried new, and better, products I didn’t realise existed.

I did receive feedback from friends and family after the virtual workshops that I was more confident and a bit more adventurous in my headwear.  I was more concerned about going out in public before the workshop, but it did make me feel like I knew what I was doing afterwards.

I also received a Home-Delivered Confidence Kit and it was good to receive information about what the products do and how to apply them. It encouraged me to take action to start to feel better. With such lovely products you feel you have to experiment, and I even finally learned how to apply eyeliner!

The Look Good Feel Better workshops are as much about the connection with the facilitator and other participants as the practical advice. By participating, I stopped feeling sorry for myself and did something positive.

As the old saying goes “you don’t know what you don’t know”.  Looking good is much more difficult when a very different face is looking back at you in the mirror so taking part in a Look Good Feel Better workshop is a small but significant step to move you on and give you some control.

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