FEATURE: Why cancer charity chief never overlooks the power of lipstick

The beauty workshop is in full swing. Eight women sit round a large square table as lipstick, foundation and mascara are expertly applied.

Excited chatter fills the air as they share the thrill of achieving a glamorous new look. But they are also united by another experience ... cancer.

The charity Cancer Campaign in Suffolk has teamed up with West Suffolk College to run confidence-boosting sessions for people fighting or recovering from the disease.

Today, students from Level 2 Media Hair and Make-up course are working with clients, showing them how to get the most from their make-up.

The project, called “It’s All About You”, is the brainchild of the charity’s chief executive Karen Hare.

She set it up with the help of Alison Stearne, the college’s lead for beauty and holistic therapy.

It gives the students valuable experience too. “One in two people will get a cancer diagnosis at some point,” said Karen.

“These students will feel confident to deal with this in their working lives.

“What people with cancer want is to be normalised. Some people will be very sympathetic to them and that’s not what they want.

“Never underestimate the power of lipstick. If you put a bit of make-up on it’s amazing how it lifts your spirits.

“People walk into our sessions quite timidly, and bounce out. It gives them confidence to face the world.”

Everyone attending the workshops gets to try out a special brand of cosmetics designed to be kind to skin, free of parabens, talc and petro-chemicals.

“Cancer can be really hard on the skin,” says Karen. “We help them navigate that, and have fun.

“We make it as relaxed as we possibly can, and they all get support from others in the group. We can manage laughter, and tears.”

As Karen demonstrates eyebrow stencils, Juliette Livermore says her brows are just growing back after chemotherapy.

Losing your hair is the distressing side effect everyone thinks of, but eyebrows and eyelashes are affected too.

The stencils make it easy to shape and colour your brows, whether you have lost them or not.

Juliette had an operation for breast cancer last spring, followed by chemo and radio therapy.

“My hair is starting to come back now. I started losing it after the first treatment and went to try on some wigs.

“Every time they took the stocking cap off my hair was coming out in clumps. When I got home I went to my hairdresser and just howled, then said shave it all off.

“My treatment also affected my skin. It became very puffy and quite dry at times.

Before the students get to work, all the clients have cleansed, toned and moisturised their faces.

Then it’s time for the pre-make-up primer. “My face feels fantastic – my skin’s glowing,” says Juliette.

Everybody gets one-to-one attention from the student taking them through their make-up routine.

Megan Gammons, who is helping Juliette, says: “You don’t get opportunities like this very often. Karen is so knowledgeable.”

Most women’s make-up mantra, once they find a look that suits them, is stick to what you know.

The workshop is also a chance to experiment with colours, looks and products they haven’t tried before.

Maureen Anderson, from Great Cornard, has decided to abandon her usual brown/black mascara and try something more dramatic.

She chooses a shade called Blackout, and is thrilled with the effect.

“We can all get stuck in a rut with our make-up,” says Maureen who had surgery for ovarian cancer three years ago followed by chemotherapy.

“My husband Kenny had died very suddenly two years before, and I blamed shock, and my age, when I felt unwell.

“They discovered I had a tumour the size of a melon. I felt okay with the chemo, but it has left me with side effects of problems with my joints and legs.”

Maureen says she has always needed to wear make-up because of her pale complexion.

“But when you feel poorly it helps you feel better,” she said.

Student George Osborne, who lives in Boxford, is working with Sharon Bareham from Lavenham.

“We get experience doing what we enjoy, and we are giving back to the clients,” he says. “It’s nice for them to feel they’re being pampered for a day.”

Sharon was treated for breast cancer four years ago. “I came to the workshop today because I volunteer at the Macmillan unit in Bury, and we recommend them to patients.

“So I thought I should come and see what it was all about. It’s great and has 
made me feel good about myself.”

Cancer Campaign in Suffolk was founded in Ipswich in 2000. It offers support services and complementary therapies, and runs an education programme.

Karen’s next aim is to raise money for a complementary therapy centre in the grounds of West Suffolk Hospital. “We need £60,000 to get us started,” she said. “I’d love some local fundraisers. This is a local charity for local people.”

To help, or find out more about the workshops, contact karen on 01473 211884, or email karen@cancercampaigninsuffolk.co.uk