In celebration of Look Good Feel Better’s 25th year in Canada, we’ve named 25 Heritage Heroes who have either helped the charity make it to 25 inspiring years of helping women and teens with cancer feel like themselves again, or currently play an important role and provide a powerful voice to keep the program alive for years to come.
Each of our 25 Heritage Heroes – one for each year of our program – exemplifies the very essence of Look Good Feel Better’s mission to empower and support women with cancer.
Look Good Feel Better wouldn’t be where it is today without Patricia Blakely – the charity’s first-ever National Program Manager.
Blakely, now 88-years-old, was the charity’s first and – at the time – only staff member when she was tasked with building the program from the ground up in 1992.
With the support of a volunteer committee, made up of members from the beauty industry, Blakely took on the "detail work" of program development.
“We had nothing,” she said from her Toronto home. “We had a total of $60,000 to start a program.”
Blakely oversaw that budget, which involved getting materials printed in two languages, training volunteers and getting products. She wrote all the training materials, adjusted the U.S.-based Signature Steps for Canada and went to hospitals to present and sell the program to oncology nurses and doctors.
“You name it – I did it,” she said. “It was not exactly a 9 to 5 job, but I loved it – I really did.”
Blakely was the perfect person for the job. She not only had experience sitting on boards for various cancer agencies, but she was also a veteran of the beauty industry, having developed Canada’s first cosmetics program at Seneca College, where she spent 16 years teaching the curriculum.
“It all just came together using the expertise I had, the knowledge of the industry and the belief in what we were doing,” she said.
To develop the charity’s volunteer roster, Blakely turned to many of her former Seneca students – some of whom are still volunteering with the organization today. She also gained inspiration from another one of her students, Sherry Abbott – a young ovarian cancer survivor who was instrumental in bringing Look Good Feel Better to Canada.
Blakely oversaw the first workshop at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre on September 17, 1992, as well as the program’s expansion to Montreal, followed by the rest of Canada’s major cancer centres.
Blakely is proud to see how far the charity has come in 25 years – and hopes the momentum will continue for years to come, because it’s a program women will always need.
“The appearance-related effects of cancer are pretty devastating to a woman – on top of the fact that her life is in danger,” said Blakely. “She doesn’t look like herself – she loses her hair and her eyebrows and her eyelashes and her skin colour changes. Look Good Feel Better can help her feel like herself again.”
“I really hope that this program never goes away.”