How A Woman With Cancer Is Reclaiming Her Identity

Jodi-Ann shares her story about beauty, resilience, strength, and supporting Look Good Feel Better.

Jodi-Ann, make-up artist, wife, and mother of three, began her cancer treatment when her twin sons were only six months old. From the emotional and physical toll to the demands of a busy family life, the make-up artist mom was suddenly faced with unthinkable challenges, all in the midst of an isolating pandemic.

Now, as an ambassador for the Burt’s Bees campaign raising awareness for Look Good Feel Better, Jodi-Ann is a vision of strength and beauty. Look Good Feel Better understands that addressing women’s emotional and psychological well-being is an important part of cancer care, and work on equipping them with the knowledge, tools, and support network they need to make their journey a little more comfortable.

Be it workshops on skin care, wigs and make-up tutorials, stylish scarf techniques, and more, Look Good Feel Better helps women living with cancer look like themselves again, so they can feel more like themselves again. Burt’s Bees supports Look Good Feel Better by donating make-up and skincare products to its workshops supporting women living with cancer.

In partnership with Burt’s Bees, Jodi-Ann shares her incredible story of resilience with HuffPost.

On trying to hold it all together...

Jodi-Ann’s responsibilities did not magically go away the minute she was diagnosed. She still had an important role to play in supporting her family, and now she had to balance that with the harsh effects of cancer and its treatment on her physical and mental strength.

“Your life still goes on, and you still have to be that mother, you still have to be that wife.”

“I never had the luxury of pulling back to deal with what was in front of me, cause I still had to do my due diligence in terms of my family,” she lamented. “One of the things people fail to understand [about living with cancer] is that your life still goes on, and you still have to be that mother, you still have to be that wife.”

And while on the outside it seemed that Jodi-Ann was on top of things, that wasn’t always how she felt on the inside.

“Sometimes when people see you, they automatically feel that you’re okay, when deep down you’re dealing with a lot of side effects. You’re dealing with a lot of things.”

On seeing a different reflection...

Receiving treatments for cancer takes a devastating toll on the body, often making simple tasks too difficult to handle. The treatments also change the physical appearance of the person receiving them, which is the main contributor to identity loss.

For Jodi-Ann, the changes were pronounced, as she felt that many of her physical features had changed. “I’m dealing with hair loss, weight loss, just about all the side-effects of chemotherapy and surgeries, in terms of rashes and scarring, [as well as] the darkening of my nails.”

With such sudden and dramatic changes, people who are receiving treatments for cancer have a hard time holding on to their identities. It’s a powerful thing to no longer look like yourself, as it becomes hard to remember who you are outside of this disease.

“I really had to dig hard to maintain my self-esteem. Sometimes I find it hard to look in the mirror because I don’t feel sexy or feminine anymore,” said Jodi-Ann. “Some days I don’t even have the enthusiasm to get up and do the things I like.”

To compound the issue, such visible transformations affect other people’s perception of folks receiving treatments for cancer, making it difficult for them to overlook the physical signs of chemotherapy. The identity of the person seems to be washed away as soon as their appearance changes.

“What stood out most was [the impact on] my 11-year-old son,” Jodi-Ann recounted. “He had a really hard time adjusting, and didn’t think I looked beautiful anymore. He didn’t perceive me as the beautiful mom that I used to be. He didn’t want me to go out in public unless I [was] wearing a wig or a scarf; that had a really big effect on me and made me sad.”

On joining the Look Good Feel Better campaign...

So how can women going through cancer start reclaiming their identities? Look Good Feel Better believes it starts with teaching women how to look like themselves again; the images they have of themselves before starting treatments.

Dealing with the appearance-related side-effects cancer and its treatment is challenging for most women, even trained makeup artists like Jodi-Ann. “Most days, for me as a make-up artist, I don’t feel enthused to get up and put on makeup — and I’m trained!”

This underlines the importance of the workshops that Look Good Feel Better hosts. “For the [Look Good Feel Better] program, it’s really handy to teach women who are going through cancer the simple basics of how they can do their hair and makeup, just for them to feel better. Because once you look good, you’ll feel better.”

On finding a support network...

While teaching women how to look like themselves again is an important facet of Look Good Feel Better’s work, that’s not all they do. The workshops also provide a support network where women can connect and be there for each other.

“Because of COVID, I don’t have the added support that I need, especially when I’m going to treatment. Nobody can come in with me [due to the] restrictions on hospitals right now, so I feel isolated and alone. [I’m also] having to take care of my family alone; no one can come and help. It’s been a really difficult journey for me,” Jodi-Ann related.

“Getting diagnosed is a big burden and it can be overwhelming.”

“Personal support is of extreme importance. Getting diagnosed is a big burden and it can be overwhelming. So you need outer support to help you, to filter all that information, especially when you’re in your doctor’s appointments, because everything is so overwhelming.”

Surrounding yourself with people who share a similar experience can provide much-needed emotional comfort.

“The [Look Good Feel Better] program comes in handy for having personal support groups where you can meet with other women who have been on the same journey and can share their experience of what they’ve been through. So you can actually have an idea of what to expect.”

On the best beauty tips…

As a professional make-up artist, Jodi-Ann has had experience with many different complexions and sensitivities. Her advice for women who are receiving treatments for cancer? Try products with fewer ingredients.

”Stick to more natural-based products. With chemotherapy you can have a lot of side-effects, and using products with a lot of harsh chemicals can have a negative impact on your skin.”

Burt’s Bees line of cosmetics are of natural origin, and suited for people of all types of complexions.

She understands that people may not always have the energy to apply a full face of make-up, so she offers these easy tricks for a quick pick-me-up.

“My favourite makeup product to use is foundation. Sometimes you’re having a really down day and your face can look drab, so putting on a little layer of foundation can do wonders. Also, [remember] brows. They’re the first thing someone sees on your face. I always say make sure your brows are always done.”

On staying positive…

As Jodi-Ann’s self-esteem has been steadily improving, she’s rediscovering herself throughout the process.

“I am definitely a stronger person. I actually have a lot more strength than I thought I did,” she said. “For me, going through this, I look at myself now as being a more rounded individual. I never dreamt of having to go through this at the same time while taking care of two babies. It [takes] a lot of perseverance, a lot of strength, that I [have] to dig deep for.”

The positive change didn’t stop there. She also found her beauty, appreciating her body for how it looks and what it does for her. “[The feature of myself that I love the most are] my eyes. You can look into my eyes and tell every detail about me: whether I’m having a good day, a bad day, whatever it is.”

This process has had an effect on how others saw her as well.

“Even though I’m going through this in the midst of everything, people say I’m still looking beautiful, that I’m strong, and that I’m going through this gracefully. I’m very determined. Some would say that I’m still the same Jodi, because I’m still up and about and enjoying my life, and that I have a very positive mindset about my diagnosis.”

Burt’s Bees has been a partner of Look Good Feel Better since 2014, donating make-up and skincare products to its workshops supporting women living with cancer. Learn more about LGFB’s complimentary workshops and how you can join and/or support the community at LGFB.ca.