OHSWEKEN – Chemotherapy is no doubt a life-saving medicine, but it takes a severe physical and emotional toll on those who undergo the treatment.
Erinn Monture, in collaboration with Six Nations Health Services and Look Good Feel Better, hosted a workshop last week on Saturday, April 29, where women who are undergoing cancer treatments or recovering were shown several ways to deal with the appearance side of effects from cancer treatment.
“Learning how to take care of your skin, or how to wear a wig, or how to apply makeup isn’t just a part of the healing journey, it’s a part of the entire journey,” said Monture, who is currently in remission after being diagnosed with cancer in December 2015. “I started chemo, and two weeks later — I lost my hair. It’s shocking and devastating for a lot of people.”
Monture said that very often patients lose their hair, eyelashes, toenails, fingernails and even nose hairs.
“All of a sudden your nose is dripping all the time and you have to carry a tissue with you everywhere; without eyelashes you have no eye protection, so you’re constantly getting junk in your eyes on top of everything going on internally. It’s the stupid little things that you don’t even think of until you’re forced into it.”
Monture started a not-for-profit organization titled, Edwadadrihwanokwa:k – We Give Each Other Hope, with the intent of being a vehicle to drive and raise awareness of cancer to territory.
“I had a hard time finding resources and help on the reserve when I was going through the process. The number of women, men, children and families here that are going through the process is much higher than you would think on Six Nations, and I want to bring all the help here that we can,” she said.
Monture collaborated with Six Nations Health Services and Look Good Feel Better, an organization that holds group workshops that teach beauty techniques to female cancer patients to help them combat the appearance-related side effects of cancer treatment. The organization is in its 25th year of operation and this is the first time one of its workshops was held on Six Nations.
Around 25 Six Nations band members were at the free workshop. The workshop is free of charge thanks to donations from makeup and beauty companies associated with the organization. All of the guests were assigned a volunteer to aid in applying makeup, lotions, and answering any of their questions. The volunteers all have careers or backgrounds in the makeup and beauty industry and were there simply as helpers, not promoters for their own companies.
“Myself and all of the volunteers are completely neutral when it comes to the products we used today,” said Deborah Hannah, director of Look good Feel Better. “We’re here to help the women learn, or relearn some techniques that they didn’t know. It’s not just makeup, it’s wig care, sunscreen application, lotion, moisturizing — things like that.”
After the workshop, the volunteers and participants were invited to share in a Healthy Roots lunch, prepared by Six Nations Health Services staff. Healthy Roots is the name of a food plan and lifestyle that follows the traditional pre-European contact Haudenosaunee diet.
Miss Mini Six Nations Raynee Smith came to the workshop in support of the women and posed for photos with the volunteers and staff, as well as Six Nations Elected Councillor Melba Thomas.
“There has been a gap in personal, one-on-one services like this one today,” said Thomas. “Health Services does a great job of having physiotherapists available, care services, doctors, dietitians, nurses, palliative care, and things like that — but this holistic and personal approach to healing is what the patients need now. It’s time to take care of themselves. Everybody likes to feel like they look good; even you and I. It lifts your spirits and self-confidence.”
Monture wants to stress how important it is for cancer awareness to be a forefront issue on the territory, and that supporters and friends need to be reminded that just because a patient may look different, or feel differently, they are still the same person as before.
“I am still the same person I was before my cancer,” she said. “I don’t like people feeling sorry for me, or thinking that I am incapable of anything and I’m very vocal on how I feel about that. We are not covering up a sickness here with makeup, we are helping these women come back to a sense or normalcy in their lives and that is so encouraging.”