Looking Good for World Cancer Day

When Alexandra Ginty, 52, developed her website, she decided to call it drbothsides.com.

That’s because, as a physician, she’s treated cancer patients.

As a cancer patient, she’s been on the receiving side of treatment.

Five years ago, the Toronto practitioner had a mastectomy on both sides, including nodes removed from her left side.

The double mastectomy made her “feel that I was being washed out to sea in ways I couldn’t manage anymore. I was edgy, and afraid. I couldn’t trust anything, even any good news — because the next piece of news could be bad again.”

As a physician dealing with this, she says, “Part of me was looking from above at the physical part.”

As a patient, she experienced and became interested in the emotional side.

“There is so much connection between mind and body,” she emphasizes.

That connection, especially for women, may be reflected in the mirror.

That’s why, just as chemotherapy drugs and radiation are powerful tools for treating cancer, so are cosmetics powerful tools for treating cancer blues.

“When you can put on makeup and then look in the mirror and you’re defying the fact that you’re looking pasty white, with no eyebrows and dark circles under your eyes and instead you smile at yourself, says Dr. Ginty, “you’re releasing hormones that help you through pain and stress.”

Also, feeling good about looking better, she says, “helps you go outside your comfort zone and meet other people and get support. And people who have support have better outcomes.”

It’s the recognition that cosmetics can contribute to healing the sadness, isolation and feeling of loss following cancer treatment that gave rise to Beauty Gives Back, founded decades ago as Look Good Feel Better.

The charitable foundation of the Canadian beauty industry is supported by Coty, Estée Lauder, Hudson’s Bay, L’Oréal, P&G, Shoppers Drug Mart and Unilever, among others, all member companies of the Canadian Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association.

It’s the only cancer charity dedicated to empowering women to manage the effects that cancer and its treatment can have on their appearance.

The free, two-hour hands-on workshop is more than an opportunity for women with cancer to learn cosmetic techniques and sample new cosmetics.

It’s also a time and place to meet with other women and share experiences and information.

That aspect of the program continues with an online community, FacingCancer.ca.

And there’s a take-home box of cosmetic goodies.

“Things that make you feel special,” says Dr. Ginty, “and show that someone cares. It’s like this fabulous Christmas present that you could never afford and someone put together for you.”

For participating cosmetic companies and retailers like Hudson’s Bay, it’s an opportunity to support both employees and customers coping with the effects of cancer.

“It’s much more than cosmetics,” says Sabrina Hazel, HBC’s Senior Manager, Community Investment. “Beauty Gives Back is about how hard cancer is emotionally for people — not just those directly impacted but everyone, family and loved ones. Our business is partly in beauty and this is one way we can give back.”

With the help of Beauty Gives Back and her considerable grit, Dr. Ginty has gone from being “washed out to sea” to riding her board down mountains in the Rockies every winter.

“Attitude at altitude” is the caption she attaches to her photo from Whistler.