SPRING HILL — Diana Razaitis doesn't like to leave the house because she has grown self-conscious about her appearance. But last week she summoned the courage to walk into a room full of strangers who, like her, are battling cancer — and fighting the toll it takes on their bodies, inside and out.
She and five other women gathered for Look Good … Feel Better, a one-session workshop to help female cancer patients combat the appearance-related side effects of cancer treatment.
This session drew the largest group in months. For the past three sessions, only one or two women had shown up.
Attendance has dwindled so much at the Pasco and Hernando workshops that volunteers and program facilitators are considering changes for next year. The possibilities include reducing the frequency of the workshops or consolidating locations.
The national program, sponsored by the American Cancer Society, has been available to local residents for 20 years.
"We used to have pretty good attendance, but lately it's been extremely low," said Pasco facilitator Sharon Stacey. She's considering making her sessions quarterly rather than monthly.
Stacey, who owns Stacey's Hair salon in Port Richey, said part of the problem is that patients don't know about the program.
"I don't think women are being told about it," she said.
But for patients such as Razaitis, who has been fighting skin cancer for two years now, the problem, at times, is simply lack of motivation.
"I don't want to go out. I don't want to go to a grocery store. I don't want to go where people can see me," said Razaitis, 58, of Port Richey.
Razaitis, a licensed practical nurse who said she was let go at work because of her appearance, has been undergoing topical chemotherapy for two years. For the past 10 weeks, her nose, face and breasts have been exposed to radiation.
"I don't love how I look," she said. "I am having trouble, and I am not there yet. My face has bled, (I have) wept, and people have made remarks in the store."
By the end of last week's session, however, she had met a new support group.
"The class was phenomenal," Razaitis said. "I am limited to how much I can put on my face, so it was nice of them to teach me."
Amy Baldwin is an aesthetician who volunteers her time to help the women with their skin and makeup. She said sometimes women make appointments to come to a session, but with the treatment they are going through, they may not feel up for it on the day of the session.
"When women are going through the grueling cancer treatment, the last thing they think or worry about is their appearance," she said. "But coming to something like this can help boost their self-esteem. So even if one person shows up, for me, helping that one is worth it."
The workshop is free. Women receive kits filled with name-brand makeup, along with face wash and moisturizer. The women are taught how to put on their makeup, step by step, by a licensed cosmetologist. Most women going though chemo have lost their hair, eyebrows and eyelashes, so they learn how to apply eyeliner or how to draw on eyebrows.
They are given ideas on how to use different scarfs or handkerchiefs on their heads, and they receive demonstrations on different types of wigs.
"This kind of program helps others who have been through a very traumatic thing," said Becky Anderson, facilitator of the Hernando sessions.
Rebecca Stephens was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009. She underwent a radical mastectomy then on her right breast, but the cancer keeps coming back.
"This is a great thing available, and I am not sure why more women don't come," said Stephens, 47, of Spring Hill.
The mother of three said she heard about Look Good … Feel Better from her doctor at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa.
But she said the program could be advertised a little better or talked about more. She has battled cancer for a couple of years now and only recently heard about the program.
She said she decided to go, hoping it was something that would help keep her positive.
"More people should come," Stephens said. "When I get well, I want to come back and help with it. That's how much I enjoyed it."