For Vickie Grilli of West Milford, shaving her head was better than the alternative.
"My hair was staying in there all right for a while, then it started coming out in big clumps," Grilli recalled of the early days of chemotherapy following breast cancer surgery in 1997. "I asked my husband to get the shaver out. That was probably the hardest thing to do, but it was also easier that way."
Grilli's story is familiar to many cancer patients, said Mary Lough, a community specialist serving the North Central region for the American Cancer Society. That is why one of many services offered by the privately funded agency is Look Good ... Feel Better, a hair- and skin-care program for cancer patients.
"Aside from hearing, 'you have cancer,' the second most traumatic thing was when his hair began coming out," Lough said of her own husband's cancer encounter, an experience echoed by many of the patients she sees, especially the women.
Look Good ... Feel Better steps in at this point for about 50-60 patients per year at its United Hospital Center office, Lough said. Wigs, wig-styling, skin care and make-up advice are offered free of charge to interested patients by Larry and Angela Policano, owners of the Clarksburg Beauty Academy, Inc.
"We do all the (wig) styling, cleaning and cutting for them here at the school," Angela Policano said. "It's been really rewarding to be able to do that little thing for them."
For Grilli, the program was no little thing. At a very low time in her life, Look Good ... Feel Better helped her feel good about herself -- and pretty.
"I didn't even realize it until one day my mom said, 'your eyebrows are gone,'" Grilli said of the loss of brows and eyelashes that followed her hair loss. "With Look Good ... Feel Better, you kind of learn to put your face back on.
"You lose so much of yourself going through this," Grilli said. "You still have it but you just can't see it."
Lough believes Look Good ... Feel Better returns self esteem from the outside and the inside -- an important component when individuals are in what may be the biggest battle of their life.
"You're fighting for your life, but you're still fighting to be a part of the human race," Lough said. "You have to have the mental attitude to fight."
Look Good .... Feel Better is only one of many patient and survivor services offered locally by the American Cancer Society and those citizens who provide its funding, Lough added.
n Road to Recovery -- Transportation service for cancer treatments.
n Reach to Recovery -- One-on-one visits of breast cancer survivors with breast cancer patients.
n I Can Cope -- A series of courses about the personal and medical issues of living with cancer.
n Tell A Friend -- Woman-to-woman encouragement to have regular mammograms.
n Make Yours A Fresh Start Family -- Smoking cessation for pregnant women and mothers of pediatric patients.
n Man to Man -- Prostate cancer education and support.
n Teens Against Tobacco Use -- Tobacco avoidance education.
For more information about these programs or other services provided through the American Cancer Society, call 1-800-287-2317.