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The serious side of looking good: Image consultant helps cancer patients look their best


Washington Blade - August 26, 2005

Hair has long been a hallmark of female attractiveness. In medieval Europe, married women were required to veil their hair, but unmarried ladies could let their locks swing freely in hopes of catching an available man.

Muslim women who reveal their hair are sometimes considered immodest for so flagrantly displaying their beauty.

Some women refuse to leave the house if their hair is unmanageable. Some dread humid days like others dread the dentist.

For female cancer patients, hair loss can represent a demoralizing side effect of treatment.

"The main concern for women sometimes is the brow loss," says cosmetologist Sonia Agosto, an image consultant who helps cancer patients who've lost their hair as a result of medical treatments.

Agosto recently became the Virginia state trainer for "Look Good ... Feel Better," a volunteer-driven program sponsored by the American Cancer Society. In this role, she teaches female cancer patients beauty techniques if their appearance changes.

Agosto and other cosmetologists also educate women about the potential dangers that razors, manicures and some cosmetics can pose to their vulnerable immune systems.

But, she notes, "the physical beginning of the hair loss has got to be the most alarming and the hardest problem to deal with." At the same time, she says, everyone's fears are different and everyone's concerns are different.

Agosto's partner of 21 years, L.A., was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2003.

L.A., who asked that her full name not be used, lost her hair after chemotherapy and radiation treatments. She also underwent a mastectomy after discovering a lump in her left breast and insisting that her doctor conduct a more thorough examination, though an initial mammogram showed there was nothing to worry about.

The couple shaved L.A.'s head before the treatments beat them to the punch.

"We had a very wonderful shaving session," said L.A., who is in her early 50s. "We cried, and then we laughed and then we shaved it off." L.A. has been cancer-free for 31 months.

"She's still under a five-year umbrella, so every day is a gift for us," Agosto says, referring to the time period before medical practitioners will officially consider her partner cancer-free.

"Look Good ... Feel Better" was founded in 1989 after a physician asked Ed Kavanaugh, president of the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association Foundation, a D.C.-based trade association, to do a makeover for a cancer patient who had become so depressed over her appearance that she refused to leave her room.

The makeover transformed the woman's attitude. Kavanaugh quickly realized other women with cancer probably had similar concerns about their physical appearance.

The Atlanta-based American Cancer Society and the National Cosmetology Association pitched in to help develop the "Look Good ... Feel Better" program, which has helped more than 430,000 women since1989.

Agosto says the program restores a sense of normalcy for women, many of whom have to continue their jobs despite a cancer diagnosis or hair loss.

"Their lives really don't stop just because they're now presented with this challenge," she explains.

Agosto started her volunteer work for cancer patients when she worked as creative director at the NuYu Salon & Spa Shoppe, in Alexandria, Va., at 4907 Brenman Park Drive. That business takes part in the HopeCuts' benefit, sponsored by the City of Hope National Medical Center and Beckman Research Institute in Los Angeles.

The benefit involves staff members at salons nationwide working on their day off to provide customers with various discount services, from $25 haircuts that normally cost $50 to $12 manicures that usually go for $22. All the money raised that day will be donated to the City of Hope, a research and treatment center for patients with cancer and other diseases, including diabetes and HIV/AIDS.

This year's HopeCuts benefit takes place from noon to 4 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 28. Visit for a list of salons in metropolitan Washington, D.C., that are planning to participate.

Agosto and Cameron Perks Coffeehouse in Alexandria, Va., are planning a silent auction fund-raiser Sunday from noon-4 p.m., in conjunction with the benefit.

Agosto now works as an independent image consultant, which leaves her time to volunteer for the "Look Good ... Feel Better" program.

"Were I in a different scenario, then I would not be able to volunteer as much," she says.

"It's a wonderful way for me to share what it is that I've done for over 20 years, which is to help people with their image - help them feel good about themselves," she says.


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Information in this article was accurate in August 26, 2005. The state of the art may have changed since the publication date. This material is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between you and your doctor. Always discuss treatment options with a doctor who specializes in treating HIV.