Sioux City Journal

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (AP) _ It’s a shock every morning when Heather Coyle looks in the mirror. The bald head and sickly pale skin punctuated by dark circles under her lashless eyes – all of her facial features remind her that she has cancer.

Coyle, 41, has been battling breast cancer for more than a year. It was gone in June but returned within three months, right when her brown hair started to grow back, the Sioux City Journal ( ) reported.

She used to spend hours fixing her shoulder-length locks. Now, she tosses on a hat to leave the house and only wears a wig for special occasions. The hot, itchy foreign head of hair reminds her of Joe Dirt, comedy’s white-trash hero with the best mullet in Hollywood.

She just wants to feel normal and pretty again instead of having cancer be the first thing people see.

“Even if I have no hair, if I put on makeup, I’m going to feel better,” she said.

That begins with eyebrows. She recently learned how to draw them on during a free two-hour workshop, held the first Monday of each month at the June E. Nylen Cancer Center.

Volunteer cosmetologists Diana Heeney and Lori Conway lead the local Look Good Feel Better program, sponsored by the Personal Care Products Council Foundation, American Cancer Society and Professional Beauty Association.

Heeney and Conway offer beauty tips and techniques to help women cope with changes in their appearance.

Coyle, for one, has grown weary of people noticing her sickness and trying to empathize by telling her stories about their dead relatives, victims of cancer. They mean well, but she doesn’t want to hear it. She’s trying to stay positive about her diagnosis _ and right now, she’s cancer-free.

The other women nod in agreement. Not everyone knows how to react. Some speak in cliches while others fall over themselves searching for the right thing to say. They just don’t get it. Unlike Vicki Hendrix. She knows cancer.

At the beginning of the workshop, she introduces herself. She learned about it at age 3. The disease afflicted aunts and uncles. She shares her fear: that she might be like her mother. She suffered four different kinds of cancer before the last one finally took her.

In October, the killer in her family came knocking on her door.

Her long blonde curls have thinned while that pesky upper-lip hair won’t go away. And then there are the burns on her “darn Swedish skin,” a side effect of radiation treatment.

She’s had to gather up some more strength to go on.

Like Coyle, she wants to be able to look in the mirror and feel good about herself. Putting on eye shadow and foundation gives her confidence. Her husband didn’t understand it at first.

“Even if I can’t see it, I know what other people see,” Hendrix said.

While the women learn how to give their skin a healthy glow, they crack jokes about the perks of cancer: no need to shave. Chemotherapy takes care of those hairy legs. They compare portacath placements and share compliments all around.

It’s what Heeney likes to see.

As they move on to lessons on lipstick, their conversations turn to motherhood, pets and grandchildren. One participant pulls up pictures of her cockatoos and kittens on her smartphone. They forget about cancer.

By the end, each leaves with a free bag of cosmetics. But there’s another takeaway. They are not alone.