My third round of cupcakes kicked my butt.

I kept telling myself that the wicked side effects were evidence that the drugs were working, but my words did little to buoy my spirits.

My chemical therapy program involves eight drugs. Two of them start a day before treatment, I get three more on cupcake day and then more drugs afterwards including the big daddy, Lapelga, a $614 (after coverage) injectable drug that stimulates white blood cell production by throwing a party in my bone marrow. Healthy white blood cells help to guard against febrile neutropenia, a fever that indicates a potentially fatal infection and the reason why us chemo people carry a document that fast tracks us into any Emergency ward should we find ourselves with a spike in temperature. Unlike Capital One, this is a card I’d rather not have to have in my wallet but like American Express, I make damn sure I never leave home without it.

With these medications come a stack of reading material that lists possible side effects. Of the eight drugs I take, there are 86 “known possible side effects” listed along with a sentence that says “this is not a complete list.” Awesome.

This time around, a new “possible side effect” made itself known to me almost every day. It was exhausting. I was drained. My body felt it and my face showed it. Even though I would nap for two hours some days, I still had bags under my eyes. I had zero energy. One day, I just slid out of my office chair and fell asleep in a sunny patch on the carpet.

Last week, I got a surprise call from a friend who, after undergoing treatment for breast cancer some years ago, began to volunteer at the Cross Cancer Hosptial for Look Good, Feel Better, a charity that’s been running for 26 years. Its mission is to help women and teens manage appearance-related effects of cancer and its treatment. She thought I might like to attend a class but to be honest, I’ve been putting makeup on for 40 years, so I thought, really, what could they possibly teach me that I already don’t know?

What she said about the social aspects, though got my attention. Basically, this:

When women get together, we share information. With that sharing, we relate (which creates a sense of belonging) and we gain knowledge (which empowers). The next time one of us sits in a chair for cupcakes and we see a classmate having cupcakes too, we automatically feel less alone because we are with someone from our tribe. A sense of belonging is a powerful thing.

So, I went.

In the room were six women (all in various stages of treatment cycles) and four or five volunteers who’ve been trained in the area of makeup, skincare, wigs, and head coverings.

Every attendee received a makeup kit stocked full of goodies. I was surprised to see quality products like MAC, NARS , Vichy and Clinique. The items are donated by those amazing brands and Cosmetics Alliance Canada. If anyone from those companies and that Association is reading this right now, I just want to say, from my very grateful heart, thank you. You guys really showed up.

We talked about eyebrows and learned how to pencil them in. Many women lose not only the eyebrows, but also the eyelashes as well. Eyebrows are a pretty big deal and if you’ve lost yours, you will need to use cosmetics over micro-blading to bring them back to life as any aesthetics involving the breaking of skin are an absolute no-no. You cannot afford to risk infection.

And speaking of infection: bacteria love the wet confines of mascara tubes, so when you’re undergoing chemo, your mascara should be tossed after one month. Glue-on eyelashes are also a no-no. Don’t be messing with that sensitive area, ladies. Same with waterproof mascara—not recommended.

The kit also included a fabric “buff” and tips on how to work magic with it, like using a shoulder pad beneath the buff to create volume. Smart.

A wig specialist talked to us about the difference between wigs made of human hair and those made of synthetic hair. She gave us instructions on wig care, how to get the right fit, what to expect cost-wise (real human hair wigs can cost $1,000 – wow!), and why you should never sit under the heater in a hockey rink if your wig is made of synthetic material, which most are.

During each step of the makeup tutorial and with each new tidbit of wig education, the women undergoing treatment shared their own aesthetic tips, tricks and information. And, no surprise, as us gals have done since puberty hanging out with girlfriends to practise our makeup skills, we giggled and had fun.

So, you see, I did learn something of value—not just from the instructors but from the other attendees as well. What I felt and experienced were what others felt, too, and it’s no big revelation that strength is gained by having allies in your corner.

You will take home more than lipstick and eyeshadow from Look Good, Feel Better; you will also take home the strength of the Sisterhood.

If you’re a woman going through cancer treatment, you can sign up for the class either at Wellspring or the Cross. Or, if you just want to help, you can do so by donating so that this charity can go for another 26 years or for as long as it’s needed. Look for @LGFBCanada on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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