In celebration of Look Good Feel Better’s 25th year in Canada, we’ve named 25 Heritage Heroes who have 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.
Dr. Denny DePetrillo, oncology nurse Leslee Thompson and Dr. Jennifer Blake have been named Heritage Heroes for their role in developing the program in cancer centres across the country.
Dr. Denny DePetrillo always knew there was something missing when it came to women’s cancer care.
Nearly thirty years ago, he conducted a study of 20 female cancer patients. He asked them whether they were more fearful of dying from the disease or its effects.
“These women were worried about how they felt as a woman, how they looked as a woman … how it affected their partner and everything else,” said DePetrillo. “Which was surprising to us.”
DePetrillo, who now develops international cancer programs, took these findings to conferences, but wasn’t taken seriously, because “a lot of attention was based on the treatment of patients and not the quality of life.”
It wasn’t until 1989, when he met Sherry Abbott, a 30-year-old beauty industry professional diagnosed with advanced metastatic ovarian cancer, that his ideas started to gain traction.
“Sherry represented the young patient with cancer who had obviously multiple concerns about … quality of life,” said DePetrillo.
Abbott took those concerns public to radio shows and other media.
“It was really breaking ground in making people aware that there’s other issues besides mortality,” said DePetrillo.
This lead DePetrillo, along with oncology nurse Leslee Thompson (now CEO of Health Standards Organization and Accreditation Canada), to launch the Appearance Concepts Foundation of Canada, aimed to help women with the appearance-related side effects of cancer and its treatment.
The pair then heard about a small group of beauty industry professionals bringing Look Good Feel Better to Canada, so they joined forces with them.
DePetrillo also enlisted the help of Dr. Jennifer Blake, now CEO of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada, to help develop the program positioning.
Blake admits she was uncertain at first, but quickly realized there was “something powerful at work here.”
“This isn’t like an acute illness where you’ve got the flu and you’re home in bed and the last thing you want to do is make yourself look like something,” she said. “This is something that you have to live with for weeks and months and longer and you don’t want to have to be explaining to everybody that you’ve got cancer … you just want to be able to live your life.”
“It was an opportunity to give women back some privacy and some quality in their life.”
By Sept. 17, 1992, this first-ever Look Good Feel Better workshop launched at Princess Margaret Hospital.
“And then it grew – there was a remarkable growth period,” said DePetrillo. “It went from a small number of workshop locations in cancer centres and today grew to more than 100 in Canada.”
The importance of psychosocial care in cancer treatment has grown as well.
“Now it’s completely gone forward and it’s one of the major issues that we have in cancer care,” said DePetrillo. “A lot of attention is finally paid to quality of life.”