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Cancer made me a beauty addict and I can't be the only one

Updated: May 8

When I was diagnosed with a rare breast cancer, becoming a beauty addict was the last thing on my mind.


Surviving long enough to see my granddaughter grow up, getting my finances in order and making it through gruelling treatments just to give myself half a chance were what kept me awake at night. That's what I was focussed on - surviving.


make-up addict after cancer treatment

My mum was diagnosed with a different, 'lesser' breast cancer when I was 14 - and she didn't make it. My dad died from a complication of leukaemia treatment three years later. What if I just have bad genes?


How I looked - or would look - wasn't part of my psyche.


Will my body be able to cope with chemo? Will the drugs even work? What if my stage 3 cancer progresses to stage 4, rendering surgery a non-starter?


Those were the all-consuming thoughts that took up residence, like squatters, in my head. The same depressing thoughts that everyone diagnosed with advanced cancer must have.


I can't have factored in how I'd feel when when I was bald. Or the notion that 'looking normal' would make me feel 'normal'. Or how a pandemic would frighten me as much as the diagnosis I had been given. All that heaped on the terrifying realisation that the lives of vulnerable people like me were little more than collateral damage to a flailing government cornered into following right-wing diktats.


Cancer and Beauty Websites


There was never - not ever - an inkling that I would swap the morale-boosting camaraderie of online cancer and CEV forums for the pages of beauty websites.


But, that's what happened.


I blame it on my wigs. They weren't expensive but they were good. In fact, if you didn't know, you may have mistaken them for my own hair.


My real hair, which in all honesty was like straw after years of bleaching, was non-existent four weeks after my first infusion of Taxotere and Carboplatin (TC). It had started to 'thin' within 10 days of my first dose. I doubt the Herceptin and Perjeta I was having at the same time helped, either.


Truthfully, I mostly wore a wig for rare social media updates. Let's face it, there weren't any special occasions to attend during lockdown.


I went au naturel indoors and relied on hats and bandanas for hospital appointments.


But when I did wear a wig... I wanted to look good.


And that's where it all started; my addiction to make-up.


An indicator could be the fact that I was already a skincare devotee. My regimen notched up a gear or three as I approached my 40s. It got even more elaborate when I hit my early 50s.


Make-up, by contrast, was a hideous concoction of not a lot - and none of it matched. My collection comprised bits and bobs with a gunky, definitely germ-ridden, mascara. The only thing I always used and always replaced was eyeliner. Black, of course. Very occasionally, mostly in the summer, sapphire blue. Either way, ageing.


I seem to recall reading something that suggested mascara should be replaced every three months to prevent infection. The fear of inviting a potentially fatal bug on my low to no-immunity body must have been what drove me to a cosmetics website. That desperation to live and be beautiful.


How it extended past mascara to include primer, finishing powder, setting sprays and then an all-consuming passion for eyeshadow palettes is beyond me.


make-up addict's collection

Fear of Death and the Beauty Addict


There is probably a simple explanation. One that a psychologist could no doubt explain in a single sentence.


They'd have to see the extent of my addiction before reaching that conclusion, of course. It includes nigh-on 120 palettes, not to mention a vast array of foundations, brushes, sponges, and all the other cosmetics that go into creating a fully made-up look. I've progressed from piles of products on plastic vegetable racks to cube storage units. Big ones.


The over-arching theme of the make-up looks I create with all these products is centred on anti-ageing. Looking younger makes me forget the fragility of my own mortality. I'm 58, by the way.


I use contour products to artificially lift the face, brow pens and waxes to provide a frame, graduated eyeshadow themes to give the impression of depth and mask hooded lids, and a range of products, including topical plumpers, to define the lips.


Sometimes, I spend more than an hour on a single look.


And it's not just about looking younger and healthier - and less likely to drop dead at any minute. It is about diverting negative thoughts to positive ones. The time I spend on beauty is time I am not wasting thinking about defeat - death.


Although I completed cancer treatment over two years ago, my chances of long-term remission aren't fantastically great. The survival rate for my cancer was 3 per cent not that many moons ago, as recently featured on Call The Midwife. It is only thanks to science and the progress of systemic treatments and protocols that it is now a 'whopping' 50 per cent. There is still half a chance it's going to kill me. I think about that when I'm getting ready for work, when I look into the faces of my loved ones and especially when I'm around people who just assume I've beaten it. I'm never going to be the 'other side' of cancer, not until the disease has won or something else kills me.


As the fourth anniversary of my diagnosis fades into the distance, that worry about when and how the cancer could come back really bothers me. The Doom Scrolling has increased. My anxiety is pretty much through the roof.


So, honestly, treating myself to yet more beauty products is what is going to take my mind off it.


eyeshadows

The results of my dreaded annual MRI scan will be blurred by a succession of highly-anticipated deliveries that will give me no end of pleasure. From the initial unboxing to the first 'try', it's going to be exciting. Like Christmas, but better.


This isn't a pity party. It is a celebration of the power of beauty.


It's warpaint.


And, of course, it doesn't have to be mind-blowingly expensive.


Top eyeshadow palettes can easily retail for £70+, but just-as-good dupes routinely cost under a tenner.


I Can't Be the Only One


There is a big emphasis on beauty in the 'cancer world'. If you've undergone chemotherapy, for example, you are almost certain to have been signposted to a free beauty course.


Some are run by local groups and others by national charities, such as Look Good Feel Better.


The aim is to make you feel more positive about yourself at a time when you probably can't face a mirror.


To ensure you give beauty a chance, many courses throw in fabulous free bundles of cosmetics supplied by leading brands. The one I received even included a super-sized bottle of Cartier perfume!


I was already a make-up addict by the time I attended one. However, it taught me plenty of new tricks.


It makes me wonder, how many women who previously couldn't be bothered with cosmetics got switched onto beauty during or just after chemo?


For me, make-up isn't just to be worn. I like looking at my collection, in much the same way a stamp collector would pore over their best finds.


The colours, the palette designs, the shimmers... They fascinate me. I love them!


And, of course, while I do wear make-up most days, I don't always go for elaborate looks.


How many others just like me are out there? I know they exist, and I want to reach them.


If I find some, I will add a Cancer and Beauty section to the forum on this website so we can discuss all things cosmetics together.


Cancer is a dark, pessimistic blighter. But beauty makes stone cold, difficult days so, so much brighter.


Belinda Bennett


3 comments

3 Comments


Guest
Jan 21, 2023

I’m so sorry you had to go through Cancer and I really admire your strength for sharing this with us. Beauty products definitely help make us look and feel better

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Guest
Jan 21, 2023

Cancer can be very debilitating. I really admire you for having the strength and will to survive this difficult journey. You stayed hopeful and turned it into something positive. As a makeup lover myself, beauty can definitely make my day so much brighter too.


Fritzie

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Guest
Jan 21, 2023

First, I'm sorry you had to go through the cancer. There are many people spend many hours on it. Lovely read and thank you for sharing it with us!

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