NEWBURYPORT — Jeanette Cattan, a hairstylist for 20 years, said losing her own hair during cancer treatments affected not only her appearance but also her morale and sense of identity.
Cattan, 42, was treated at Anna Jaques Hospital after she was diagnosed in 2013. Now fully recovered, she has returned to Anna Jaques to help current patients cope with the appearance-related side effects of chemotherapy and radiation.
In April, Cattan helped the hospital open a wig bank to provide free natural and synthetic-hair wigs for women who are on Medicare or uninsured. She also holds private wig fittings there.
Cattan is a certified volunteer for the American Cancer Society’s Look Good, Feel Better program, a free service that teaches hands-on cosmetic techniques to patients receiving treatment.
Cattan, a Georgetown native and former Newburyport resident who now lives in Newton, New Hampshire, pointed toward her own experiences, emphasizing the program’s ability to greatly restore patients’ self-esteem, morale and comfort levels.
“When you go through treatment, you look and feel like a totally different person,” Cattan said. “It’s almost like you forget who you are. Reclaiming a bit of that gives them hope and brings back some of the control that they feel they may have lost, and helps them regain some confidence and independence as well.”
Cattan said the multiple Look Good, Feel Better sessions she has led over the past year have served as an outlet for patients to share their experiences and gain support from each other.
“The sense of camaraderie is great,” Cattan said. “You lose a lot of your sense of fun and happiness when you go through a treatment like that, but when you come together with a group of people and you’re playing with hats and hair, you start to see that there is still fun in life even when things are so tragic.”
Cattan said the struggles she faced during her cancer treatment allowed her to look beyond her reflection to uncover a deeper sense of identity, and helped her gain new perspective on life that she hopes to pass on to her children.
“What I really found through this journey was who I really am,” Cattan said. “I remember telling my daughter, ‘You can lose your hair and your toys, but you can always hold on to your hope and dreams, your creativity and the essence of who you are.’”
Cattan also said she has come to understand the value of everyday acts that help others feel better about themselves, and hopes that the Look Good, Feel Better program will grow to allow her to reach more people in need.
“Whether it’s with their hair or by sharing a cup of coffee, it’s those simple things that really matter in life,” Cattan said. “I’m hoping we can get more volunteers and that more patients take advantage of the program because it is absolutely beneficial.”
For more information on the wig bank or the Look Good, Feel Better program, call Cattan at (978) 204-4720 or visit lookgoodfeelbetter.org.
Jack Shea can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 978-961-3154. Follow him on Twitter @iamjackshea.