Merced cancer patients get a boost of self-esteem

yamaro@mercedsun-star.comOctober 15, 2012 

— Makeup from different brands laid on a table while relaxing music played in the background. Women laughed and cried and shared stories as they applied their makeup or helped someone else with the task.

This was not a pre-party gathering.

It was a small group of women who are battling cancer and were participating in the Look Good, Feel Better program at Mercy Cancer Center on Friday afternoon. The program is made possible by the American Cancer Society, and any area cancer patient can attend.

"Wow, you need to come to my house every morning," Stephanie VanDyken, 35, told Joy Widmark after she was done with the final touches on her makeup.

VanDyken, who was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer in January, was one of two participants.

The program was first offered locally in March, and it takes place the second Friday of every month, said Rebecca Nannini, one of the program facilitators. Each participant receives a makeup kit worth $300, she said.

The items inside the kit are donated by makeup brands including Mary Kay, Chanel and Clinique.

"The program is for the patients to be able to talk to one another and know what they're going through," she said.

The program aims to help cancer patients feel better about themselves as they deal with the disease. "The way you feel is part of the way you heal," Nannini said.

Atwater resident Esther Evans, 57, took part in Friday's program. She said she felt a lump on one of her breasts in January, but was told it wasn't cancer.

It wasn't until July that she had surgery and doctors found a 4-inch tumor. She was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer and has a 50 percent chance of survival.

VanDyken and Evans have gone through intensive treatments. But that didn't get in the way of attending the program and getting away from their daily routine to have a little bit of fun with makeup.

"I give it a 5-star rating," Evans said of the program, with a laugh.

VanDyken also said she was happy with what she got out of the program.

"I thought it was wonderful," she said. "It was like a treat. The makeup was nice, but talking to someone else who has cancer was wonderful."

VanDyken is now considered cancer-free, but still has to undergo treatment to make sure it's completely gone and to reduce the chance of it coming back.

Evans is in a similar situation. But she still has cells in her body that could become cancerous and receives treatment to curb the chance of that happening.

Widmark, who is a facilitator, said it's an honor to work with people who are going through real issues and who don't know what tomorrow might look like. She's grateful to see people who are not taking anything for granted, she said.

"Every person is an inspiration," she said.

Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or

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