WHEN Jenny French was diagnosed with cancer, she took it in her stride.

However, when the doctor confirmed she would lose her hair due to the chemotherapy, her world fell apart.

Jenny, 50, a teacher from Clacton, retreated into herself.

She did not go out. She would not walk past the window in her front room in case people walking past would see her.

Jenny said: "I am usually a ballsy lady but I fell apart.

"When the doctor said I had cancer, I kind of knew anyway. I was not shocked. But when my hair fell out, that was it.

"I had major issues mixing with people. I became a real hermit, I did not go outdoors. I felt like a freak."

Jenny underwent chemotherapy, radiotherapy and a lumpectomy to deal with the breast cancer.

Physically she responded well but mentally, she was devastated.

"I had panic attacks," she said. "I could not bear to be amongst other people."

Jenny went to the Look Good, Feel Better session which aims to help women with cancer feel better about themselves.

It is a simple principle. Run down by living with cancer, worrying about yourself and your family and friends, there is the danger cancer can take over, become all consuming.

Everything is defined by it - trips out are to hospital appointments, day to day life is determined by how bad you feel due to the treatment.

But just for a few hours, the women were treated to a pampering session, where they got the chance to feel normal, where the cancer has to take a back step.

The women meet in a room in a teaching block at Colchester General Hospital.

Look Good, Feel Better is a charity created by the Comestic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association. It offers skincare and make-up workshops in more than 75 hospitals and cancer support centres nationwide.

Beauticians volunteer their time and hold sessions advising the women how to use gentle lotions and potions on fragile skin weakened through treatment.

They teach techniques on how to replace eye brows and eye lashes lost through chemotherapy.

But it is more than just a matter of putting on some war paint - the women are united by fighting cancer and the shared experience is empowering in itself.

Georgina Bloomfield has been a volunteer for Look Good, Feel Better for six years and has co-ordinated the sessions in Colchester since last June.

She said: "At the start, the sessions are quiet but by the end, everyone is chatting.

"They learn how easy it is to put make up on and how to look good and feel better when you are at your lowest."

Teacher Sarah Cooper, 38, from Colchester, was diagnosed with cancer last October.

She has undergone six chemotherapy treatments and will have surgery and more chemotherapy in her battle against the illness.

She said: "My whole life has become about cancer. My trips out are to the hospital.

"This reminds us there is more to life than treatments.

"The nurses in the Mary Barron suite are lovely but this is really nice."




Ashleigh West, 29, from Colchester, seized the nettle when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

She knew she would have to undergo chemotherapy and would lose her waist length brown hair.

She decided to get in first and had it cut off and sent it to the Little Princess Trust charity which makes wigs for children who have lost their hair through treatment.

Ashleigh raised £3,000, she also had her head shaved and held a wig party.

Ashleigh underwent six treatments of chemotherapy as well as a lumpectomy.

At the Look Good, Feel Better sessions, Ashleigh wears a t shirt declaring Cancer 0 Ash 1. She is defiant.

"I have felt I could get through it right from the start but I really think it helps to talk and find out what other people are going through."

She has been sitting next to Kim Brown, 56, from Feering, who also had breast cancer.

Kim had surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy which utterly drained her.

She has enjoyed the make up session. "It is nice to feel a bit more normal again. It is a little bit of you time."

Both women see the benefits of a cancer centre bring all therapies together.

Kim explains: "You see the same people all the time at chemo and radiotherapy. It would be better to have it all on one site so you can see people you know who can share your experience and reassure you."

Grandmother Christine Leach, 64, of Brightlingsea, underwent surgery for Non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2011.

"It came back," she said. "It raised its ugly head before Christmas.

"I have had four chemotherapy treatments and I lost my hair within the first month.

"I was not too worried, it was more important to get better, but I want to look in the mirror and want to look normal.

"I am a former public consultant and your make up makes you feel better."

Make up will not change the women's diagnosis. For that, they depend on the expertise of the medical staff at the hospital.

But the cosmetic therapy does help their well-being. It gives them mental strength as they cope with their physical battle.

While the session has gone on, Jenny's wig has lain on the table in front of her. She has relaxed and for the first time in months her terrible feeling of self-consciousness has dissipated.

When she left, Jenny walked out of the door without her wig on.

"It has just made me feel normal again," she said.



THE Gazette is support the Cancer Centre Campaign which aims to bring cancer services, including radiotherapy, chemotherapy and support services, together in one location.

If successful, it will lead to an extra storey being built on top of Colchester General Hospital’s new radiotherapy centre.

So far, more than £700,000 has been raised towards the £4.5 million target.

Money has come from businesses, fundraising and donations but more is still needed.

To donate to the appeal, text GAZE11 £10 to 70070 (or chose a different amount).

Cheques can be made payable to CoHoC Cancer Centre Campaign and sent to: Colchester Hospitals Charity, Villa 10, Turner Road, Colchester, CO4 5JL.

Donations can also be made online by going to www.CohoC. org.uk This will take you to the secure site justgiving.com where you can make a donation, or set up a your own fundraising page.

For more information, email Caroline Bates on caroline.bates@colchesterhospital.nhs.uk