Facing the Mirror
HOST INRO ON CAMERA
It's one of those universal ironies that philosophers have been pondering for centuries... Sometimes, it takes the worst that life has to offer to bring about some of humanity's best efforts. Such is the story of Lori Ovitz, a Chicago make-up artist who, six years ago, decided to take her 20-year career working with glamorous celebrities and hi-end models, and put it to use... on a completely new set of clients.
I started when Gilda's Club first opened in Chicago... I thought what a wonderful thing to be able to go in and say, "These are my tricks of the trade, here's my portfolio, I've worked with celebrities, I've worked with top models, and you know what? I know that I can make a difference for people with cancer..."
And that's exactly what Lori Ovitz did. She took her skills and applied them to people who needed to feel good about their appearance while fighting cancer
LORI OVITZ (cross-fade to on-camera)
Its very personal to do someone's makeup to begin with, but let alone to know that you're really helping someone to feel good about themselves.
But even Lori was surprised at how profound her work would turn out to be.
And there would be one story after another every time I would do a patient, of the patient running through the hallways crying to her nurses, but this time they had a big smile on their face and they were crying because they were overwhelmed that the false eyelashes can look real, that you can really do a your eyebrows to make them look like hair. ... it's very easy to do, its just knowing the tricks of the trade.
Hi Antonia, I'm Lori Ovitz, how are you? I'm so glad that you can come in today. How are you feeling?
Good. I'm glad to hear that, I understand that you just want to kind of be made to feel beautiful today.
Today, six years and countless one-on-one make-up sessions later, the power of Lori's lessons is still an amazing sight to behold.
DR. GINA GRACI (on-camera)
Lori Ovitz makes Northwestern Cancer Center a better place to be.
Dr. Gina Graci is the Director of Psychosocial Oncology at Northwestern University, and the University's Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center in Chicago.
DR. GINA GRACI (cross-fade to on-camera)
Lori does not charge a fee and that's the beauty of it. Lori does this - it's going to sound weird - out of the kindness of her heart.
Dr. Graci's job includes helping patients get through the terrifying ordeal associated with cancer. She often refers patients to Lori.
DR. GINA GRACI
So much can be said about the importance of appearance, especially for a cancer patient going through treatment. ... We understand what cancer does to a patient. The physical treatment, the chemotherapy, the radiation - it changes the appearance of patients where they don't feel like themselves. So physically, from the actual agents that are making them better, there are physiological changes. So, when they look in the mirror they don't know who that person is anymore.
In addition to her almost daily appointments at Northwestern, Lori also sees cancer patients twice a month at the University of Chicago.
Social worker Chanda Mehta has been matching cancer patients with Lori for over four years.
CHANDA MEHTA (on-camera)
You know, when patients that have cancer go through chemotherapy and radiation, they lose a lot of their hair, and their skin becomes patchy and their eyebrows start falling off. So they go through all these physical appearance changes.
Thank you very much.
Oh, you're beautiful. And you're at the end. I mean, you know, the chemo's over. Yeah, I know, you look so pretty.
LEAH SHAHEEN (cross-fade to on-camera)
... Being diagnosed with cancer at 23 it's probably the most frightening thing ever. You're really faced with your mortality and I feel like my life isn't even half over. But aside from that, your body undergoes such changes that, I mean, most 23 year olds don't ever have to deal with that, or, you know, they may not have to deal with it for another 30 or 40 years. And it's really frightening.
Like many patients, Leah Shaheen's cancer seemed to have come from out of the blue. A recent college graduate, Leah was on the verge of entering Chicago's professional theater scene before learning abruptly that she had non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.
LEAH SHAHEEN (on-camera)
I mean it's very dramatic. You sometimes don't even want to look in the mirror. Some mornings I wake up and take my toothbrush and my toothpaste out of the bathroom. It's hard.
Leah was referred to Lori by Dr. Graci, and Chicago area wig master, Brian Blanchard.
Hi Leah, how are you?
How are you feeling?
I'm feeling very well, thank you.
I was told she helps with beauty tips.
If you blend it in and you can't see it, then you know that you have the right color.
But it's really more than that I think. It's helping your-self be able to tolerate this process
Don't make me laugh
So, giving you strength and energy to go on.
Feel that cheekbone here. It's on the top of your cheekbone and the bottom of your jawbone. And right in here is where you're blush should go.
I think I just hope to gain more confidence and, I don't know, feel a little bit more like my old self.
Leah, I have you're dad here, I think he'd like to come in and see it.
LEAH'S FIRST BYTE IN THE MIRROR
It's the best I've looked! (laughs) No, I mean it feels really good. It makes it a lot easier to look at yourself in the mirror. You recognize yourself a little bit more.
CHANDA MEHTA (on-camera)
It's very empowering. It gives them the tools to look better and it also helps them to accept themselves as who they are as human beings. So I think that it is very, very beneficial.
DR. GINA GRACI (cross-fade to second & third lines on-camera)
My work with Lori has taught me one thing. The one session that she has with patients is "therapy in a bottle." And it takes the place of many, many sessions. (cross-fade to more LORI/LEAH love fest) You restore someone's sense of well-being, their optimism, they're able to become more socially involved because they look like they feel well. And if you look better you're probably going to feel like you can accomplish more in your life.
For Lori, the transition from using her craft for models and celebrities to cancer patients has been very satisfying.
...it's not making the beautiful model more beautiful, or the celebrity shining through more so in character, whatever they're in, but taking someone who's very down on themselves and making them feel good. And it's incredibly rewarding. ... (ON-CAMERA) Makeup's not going to cure cancer, but it sure is going to make you feel a lot better about yourself.
LEAH SHAHEEN IN THE MIRROR TWO
I feel like I look really healthy right now. And I feel like if I can look like this nice when I'm sick, then when I'm feeling healthy, with your little makeup tips, I'm going to look pretty darn good.
HOST ON-CAMERA/VO CLOSING TAG
For Lori's makeover sessions, she brings a lot of makeup and brushes, so they can all go home with what they need to get started. And just like the sessions themselves, It's all free to participants.
In the U.S. women make up 55% of all persons over 65 years of age, and 70% of all people 85 and older.
WRAP UP / GOODBYE
Well that's all for this edition of The Art of Women's Health. Join us next time for more compelling stories about the vital health issues facing women today. Until then... I'm Juju Chang.