FOR any woman to be told to take off your make-up in front of a roomful of strangers is a daunting prospect.
But for the women at a Look Good Feel Better workshop it is nothing short of courageous.
Initially reticent, the group – which are all undergoing treatment for different types of cancer – slowly remove their make-up before they are told by beauty experts how to best use it to their advantage.
Using products donated by various beauty companies, the women are given advice on skincare during the two-hour session run at Maggie’s Oxford, a charity based at Headington’s Churchill Hospital.
“I wanted help with make-up, but I don’t want to draw attention to myself, I just want to feel better,” said Beverley Mountain, from Bicester, a grandmother of one and mother of two.
The 54-year-old was diagnosed with breast cancer after it was picked up by a routine screening, which is offered every three years by the NHS for all women aged 50 and over.
Mrs Mountain said: “I didn’t have any symptoms. It could have taken up to two years to have visible symptoms so I was lucky.
“I came to Maggie’s Oxford after my operation, so some time in May. I was feeling quite down, someone recommended this place and it was great.”
Heidi Bannister, regional co-ordinator for Look Good Feel Better, said: “The women are always worrying when they come in.
“But everyone always loves it, it is a confidence thing.
“The ladies always say it has made themselves look healthy and normal.
“The hair is a big issue and the eyebrows.”
She added: “It also helps them realise that they are not the only ones going through this.
“These women are so strong and they are going through this hideous treatment and they are getting on with life.”
Look Good Feel Better is just one of the programmes run at Maggie’s Oxford.
The charity has been based at a temporary building for the past eight years, but a new, permanent £3m centre is due to open in spring 2014.
The new centre, which has been designed like a treehouse, will be able to support 100 people a day – more than three times the number the existing centre can help.
Clare Trussler, cancer support specialist for Maggie’s Oxford, said: “It will make a huge difference. We will be able to welcome more people as we have limited space here.”
There are 5,000 people diagnosed with cancers by the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust every year.
MUM-of-one Nikki Popoola, pictured with Angela Duffy, was diagnosed with breast cancer in October after finding a lump.
The 46-year-old sales worker from Stoke Lyne, near Bicester, decided to undergo a mastectomy in November.
She had chemotherapy from January to April and will have radiotherapy treatment until April.
Miss Popoola said: “My only wish is I wish I’d come to Maggie’s sooner. I found out about Maggie’s in January.
“At the time I wasn’t in the right frame of mind, but I didn’t know how much was on offer.”
On the new centre, she said: “Absolutely it will make a difference. The people here are brilliant, but having a new centre will be brilliant.”
She added that the tips she learned at the Look Good Feel Better workshop were invaluable.
She said: “You can wear wigs, but losing eyebrows and eyelashes can really knock your confidence. I am a great believer about how you feel about how you look on the outside makes a difference on the inside.”
SUE Strode discovered she had ovarian cancer when she went to her GP with abdominal pains.
The 70-year-old mum-of-two, from Witney, said: “I had terrible abdominal pains just before Christmas.
“I went to the doctor who examined me and said come back in a week and by that time they felt something.”
She had an operation in February and is still undergoing chemotherapy treatment.
Mrs Strode discovered Maggie’s Oxford through Burford Golf Club, which had fundraised for the charity.
She said: “I think the plan for the new centre is wonderful.
“It is closer to where you get your treatments so it is easier for people to drop in.”
On Look Good Feel Better, she added: “It is good to be in a social situation with other people who are getting treatment.
“I found it very traumatic when you first lose hair.
“I think it is a good idea because you do feel – especially when you have lost your hair – that you have lost your femininity. Anything to make you feel good.”
MUM-of-two Joy Dansette, pictured with Heidi Bannister, is urging others to take the NHS routine screening test for bowel cancer after she was diagnosed and had no symptoms.
The Banbury Academy teacher, from South Newington, said: “I was perfectly healthy, the fittest I have ever been.
“I had a screening and they found a tumour in my colon.”
Since her diagnosis she has undergone a bowel operation and 12 sessions of chemotherapy.
It will be October before she finds out what affect the treatment has had.
On the Look Good Feel Better session, Mrs Dansette said: “It is the first day when I have had two hours when I haven’t thought about cancer.
“It is good to pamper yourself.
“It just makes you feel normal again.
“People have just taken their wigs off and they are OK.”
Mrs Dansette added: “When you get a test, do it straightaway because I have never felt so well in all my life, it was a massive shock.
“Most people throw it in the bin, but it is so important.”
Women and men aged 60 to 69 are offered the NHS bowel cancer screening programme every two years. Those over 70 can request a screening kit by calling the freephone helpline 0800 707 6060.