I didn’t grow up knowing anyone who was diagnosed with cancer or actively being treated for cancer. It wasn’t hereditary in my family and I never knew of any friends or distant relatives with it, until I reached adulthood. To say I was naive to cancer growing up would be an understatement. I had absolutely no knowledge of what it truly was, aside from the fact that there were different types, it was always bad, and pink was the color for breast cancer. Reflecting on the way I learned about cancer this past year, I wish that I had been more aware. The saying goes, you never know what you have until it’s gone, the same could be said for knowledge and prevention. If only you knew what to look for, you could have intervened sooner and maybe saved them.
Dannielle, my late mother-in-law, was and remains the reason I chose to pursue Oncology Aesthetics. I had known her for over 15 years and after living with her for 4 years, from 2019 to 2022, I never would have thought she would have left us so quickly. I was in the room with her when the doctor confirmed the diagnosis, and I froze. I didn’t know what to do because I had never been through a situation quite like this before. One moment she was walking to the airport terminal with my husband and I to catch a flight and next we knew she was being admitted to the hospital because I couldn’t provide the medical care she desperately needed. One thing for certain was, it wasn’t about me, it was about her life. I had made it my mission to see that she had the best care possible and nothing to worry about while she healed.
Over those 4 very long months of being by her side almost every day, really opened my eyes to the world of cancer. It was a world I didn’t want to be a part of, yet at the same time I was intrigued with researching her diagnosis, searching for cureable treatments, ways to prolong her life, and to my dismay, discovering how much was still not researched for cancer patients as a whole. I myself had already experienced the loss of a parent at 13 years old, but this experience was so much different, this time I had a chance to help. I did all that I could for her, whether it was brushing her hair, fetching the nurse for fresh ice water, any foods she craved that day and many coffee runs to 7/11 so she could enjoy her favorite treat. Whatever she needed, I was ready to do, but it constantly broke my heart knowing that the simple things in life and the self care she enjoyed so much, was now an immensely daunting task.
Throughout the journey, my view on life changed from the inside out and quickly enough the thought dawned on me; I wanted to find a way to help cancer patients so they could feel confident again. Not only was my mother-in-law’s life a very good reason to get involved, but knowing that so many people in my country and across the world would walk the same path she did, was a huge motivator. The thought tugs at my heart strings and the moment I began to see simple acts of kindness and compassion in a new light, is when my search for the association between oncology and aesthetics began. I’ve always been passionate about aesthetics and my profession is now leading me to help those in need of a service which I can provide.
For me, knowing and understanding the statistics came first. According to the Standard Authority for Touch in Cancer Care, also known as SATCC, 1 in 2 people will experience some form of cancer in their lifetime, and according to Our World In Data, cancer is the second largest cause of death in the globe per year. In another statistic by the National Cancer Institute in 2022, just the United States alone had an estimated 1.9 million people that would be diagnosed with cancer and 609,360 people would die of cancer. The amount of patients experiencing such a major life event is unfathomable, especially when considering their joy in life has been robbed. I remain hopeful that it can be brought back, even if just for a day, to more patients by more oncology trained beauty and wellness professionals.
Efforts to help cancer patients have been actively pursued, by Sue Harmworth, the CEO of SATCC, for example. Harmworth states on her website, “I firmly believe that a national standards authority for touch in cancer care is a revolutionary step for spas, therapists and most importantly consumers.” This is something that I feel is not widely known by beauty professionals, even in my years of experience in the industry I wasn’t aware
until the past couple years that organizations were made specifically for this purpose. I think it’s wonderful that professionals from various fields are joining forces to make this happen, however, where is the education for cancer patients? What about the outreach to beauty professionals? I began to question these things and other thoughts. Such as, is this perhaps a field that a lot of professionals shy away from because they’ve either never personally been touched by the trenches of cancer? Or is it that they’re too scared to venture into what seems to be an unknown territory?
Another initiative called, Safe Hands for Cancer, claims “to make the benefits of spa treatments genuinely available to everybody” and their goal is to “make sure that anyone at any stage of their cancer journey can enjoy a spa experience safely, easily, and whilst enjoying spa therapies that add the most benefit to their wellbeing.” I think its mission statement is wonderful, however upon further research, this is an organization based in Europe, along with the SATCC. So what about other countries, states and cities? A general
Google search will bring up resources, however the amount of research to find someplace to go is daunting. Unless someone thinks to type in the words ‘oncology’ and ‘spa’ in the same sentence, not much information is available.
For example, when I search for “aesthetician specializing in oncology near me”, my search produces only 6 locations in the Las Vegas area. In a city of over 646,000+ people, approximately 5,400 people will succumb to their disease, according to the Nevada Cancer Coalition. Imagine how many people in the Las Vegas area are diagnosed, and only have maybe 6 options to choose from for spa services? I also came to the conclusion that my search was leading to two separate subjects. The first being training for estheticians, which came relatively easy,
however not much was available. The second, and more problematic to me, was the information for cancer patients to find qualified professionals to go to for treatments in a safe environment.
I began to dig a little deeper in my search for resources in the United States and chose to search on the American Cancer Society’s website. Surely such an organization should lead to all the sources a cancer patient is looking for! I turned to their section titled “Treatment and Survivorship” in hopes that this may offer a label for quality of life suggestions. There are plenty of resources regarding eating well and how to be more active, but still my search was coming up empty. I eventually found a link titled “Reach To Recovery Website and App” which sounds like a very promising route for what I was looking for. Unfortunately, I was disappointed to see this program was tailored specifically to breast cancer survivors rather than all cancer survivors. The top of the page states, “Chat with someone who’s been there” then continues with “match with a breast cancer survivor today”. I don’t want to sound anti breast cancer, however I find it disappointing that this resource is being individualized and not inclusive to all. Nonetheless, I proceeded with my search as there had to be something.
Under the tab, “Breast Cancer Information and Resources” I found a link to breast cancer survivorship guidelines and opened it. I proceeded to clicking on links such as ‘palliative or support care’, ‘coping and living well during cancer treatment’, ‘caring for your appearance’, and finally came across a guideline for ‘how to look your best during cancer treatment’, ‘if you have hair loss’ and ‘caring for your skin’. At this point, despite all the digging I had to do, I became hopeful for more resourceful leads, but the only suggestion to beauty professionals comes down to one bullet point, “Pamper yourself. Paint your nails, or buy something that makes you feel good. (Check with your cancer team first, especially before getting manicures, pedicures, or waxing in salons or spas.)” Alas, something that finally mentions spa treatments, yet there is still no resource pointing the way for the patient to find a safe place for them to go. It was a big let down to not find any sort of reference for an organization offering qualified spa information for patients.
In another avenue, the American Cancer Society has a program called TLC, also known as Total Love and Care, listed within a PDF file titled ‘Getting Help For Hair Loss’. TLC is known as an organization dedicated to cancer patients and offers products such as wigs, caps, mastectomy bras and shapers. Upon further review, their website offers products for cancer patients, however they cater mainly to women suffering from breast cancer. The problem with this is it makes the program feel exclusive to just those cancer patients and not inclusive to all people suffering from any type of cancer besides breast cancer. Lung and Bronchus Cancer is the number one leading cancer, however, breast cancer seems to take the trophy of most supported. All cancers deserve support and seeing organizations make steps to show they support everyone would certainly help. After reviewing the TLC website in its entirety, I unfortunately found no further resources to point patients and
caregivers to other options of treatment and survivorship care.
Moving my search to a more local level, I began reviewing what is offered in the Las Vegas Valley. I calculated at least 6 independently owned aesthetic businesses that appeared on a map search, same as the one previously done. I also noticed the Skin and Cancer Institute lists Aesthetic services on their website. Highly intrigued, I looked at the list of services offered: Diamond Glow Facial, Dermaplaning, Microneedling (and with PRP), Chemical Peels with Perfect Peel, SkinCeuticals, TCA, and Microdermabrasion. None of these services are something a cancer patient would be able to receive unless they are in remission and any damaged skin is fully healed. Furthermore, their website states, “Our aestheticians offer skin care consultations if you are curious about your skin type and want recommendations for the best medical-grade products.” This to me says they do not cater to cancer survivors, they cater to the rest of the population without cancer.
Additionally, their services listed under the Skin Cancer tab only explain Mohs Micrographic Surgery, and the headline on the page states, “A simple mole check can save your life. Skin and Cancer Institute founder and board-certified dermatologist and skin cancer surgeon Dr. Daniel Taheri highly recommends his patients to undergo routine skin examinations to prevent and detect skin cancer or any other dangerous growths such as moles or precancerous skin lesions. He also advises against excessive sun exposure and strongly supports wearing high SPF protection to avoid a diagnosis of skin cancer.” I found this misleading considering the name of their company and that they offer aesthetic services, but still nothing for active cancer patients.
As my list of local clinics and spas began to narrow, I decided to search on another large organization's website, the National Cancer Institute. In an article titled ‘Helping Cancer Survivors Cope with Cancer-Related Anxiety and Distress’ they state, “Research shows that anxiety and distress are more common in long-term cancer survivors than in their healthy peers with no history of cancer. In addition to the fear of recurrence, other sources of cancer-related distress for survivors include concerns about family and finances, changes in body image and sexuality, and the challenges of managing their long-term health needs. These cancer-specific types of distress ‘may not fall into the classic description of anxiety or depression but are still disruptive to [a person’s] quality of life,’ Dr. Syrjala said.”
In the same article, Deborah Mayer, Ph.D., R.N., interim director of NCI’s Office of Cancer Survivorship states, “numerous approaches have been shown to help cancer patients and survivors cope with cancer-related anxiety and distress. However, many studies of these methods have been done in large cancer centers, and one challenge that remains is how to implement existing approaches in real-world settings, such as community oncology or primary care practices.” The article also states, “...many studies of approaches to help survivors cope with anxiety and distress, as well as with depression, have focused only on women who are breast cancer survivors. ‘We need to study people with other types of cancers as well,’ she said.”
I agree with both Doctor’s statements, cancer has been a disease for many years, with thousands of hours of research. So why is it that a patient's quality of life is being so heavily left out of the equation? Throughout my search on the National Cancer Institute's website, no resources or recommendations were found. So yet again, another major organization for cancer in the United States has nothing to offer.
Could it be that aesthetics don’t fit a certain narrative? Doctors open their own medical spas and employ nurses, practitioners and licensed aestheticians often. Could it be too difficult for an Oncology Doctor to open their own spa, specifically for providing cancer patients with relaxing treatments and employ the same professionals? Properly trained aestheticians can employ themselves in their own business, but just like medical treatments, should estheticians be overseen by a medical director to ensure safety for themselves and the clients? Even if this is something that isn’t necessary in every state per State Board laws, could an esthetician enlist an Oncology Doctor as a medical advisor to their practice, for client reassurance and safety? There’s a major dissociation between medical providers and the beauty and wellness industry, however, modern technology and research is beginning to change that issue.
In an article written by Molly Brown on Well Spa 360’s website, titled ‘Five Spas on Their Oncology Services and Catering to Clients With Cancer’, the author interviewed several beauty business professionals and got their perspectives and action plans on treating clients undergoing active cancer, and those in remission. The author states, “Although there was a time when spas may have shied away from offering services to guests who were battling the disease in its many forms, that’s no longer the case. According to Oncology Training International (OTI), an organization that educates spa workers around the world, there’s a tremendous demand for such offerings- especially given the staggering statistic that as many as four in ten people will get cancer in their lifetimes.” A statistic in 2018 provided by OTI states approximately 4,000 spa professionals in the U.S. alone have been trained. In addition, “..with new research, doctors are not only recognizing the benefits of massage -as well as skin care and hydrotherapy- for their patients, they’re now encouraging it!” said Ursula Froehlich, President of Margot European Day Spa in Birmingham, Michigan. Given these statistics were provided in 2018 and it is now the first quarter of 2023, unfortunately we’ve endured a global pandemic which assuredly
disrupted the offerings to cancer patients. Thankfully we’ve moved further out of the pandemic, with society mostly back to normal life, allowing cancer patients the opportunities to return to their beloved spas or begin searching for one.
On an interesting note, Froehlich further explains, “we use only Phytomer products, which contain sea ingredients, and we customize each service to help soothe the body and mind.” She continues to explain how the power of marine ingredients is so often overlooked and is useful for helping the body remineralize and heal.
In my experience, I’ve used serums with marine ingredients, which worked immensely for my dry inflamed skin, and was trained on these products during my time in the beauty industry. I don’t often see products utilizing the benefits of marine ingredients, but I can agree with Froehlich on the aspect of marine products being highly beneficial for cancer patients. I’ve also noticed the emerging category of oncology safe skin care products in the beauty industry, such as Strength and Courage by Bryght. Perhaps the wheels are moving slowly in the direction of oncology aesthetics, but I’m happy to see it come to light and receive recognition!
For instance, Scott Duncan, the President of Spa Gregorie’s and Catherine Chamberlain, a certified esthetician and registered nurse, have dedicated their businesses to employing oncology trained professionals and offering a variety of services such as Oncology Skin Care Facials, Oncology Massages and further education for professionals. Additionally, both business owners have developed their own charitable programs: Chamberlain’s Eden Cares Program provides complimentary services on select Sundays and Mondays to clients undergoing cancer treatment. She stated, “The most rewarding part is being able to give guests some time focused on them in a therapeutic yet nonmedical way, and to know we made a positive impact at a challenging time.”
Duncan founded Greet the Day, which offers complimentary services as well as half-day retreats for cancer patients. Duncan stated, “I wanted to develop a charitable program that would allow our therapists the opportunity to give back to the cancer community through the art of touch within our space.” Greet the Day also offers professionals the chance to take accredited continuing education classes, including Oncology Skin Care and Facial Treatments, Oncology Massage and Aromatherapy in Health Care. “It’s rewarding to know that this organization has served thousands of people affected by cancer, and has nurtured and trained countless service providers.” said Duncan.
At this point in my search, I’m proud to see some of the beauty and wellness industry is working toward a common goal of offering cancer patients with spa services. At the same time, I’m highly disappointed about the let down by national cancer organizations, and their lack of resources for better quality of life services; not only on a national level, but also on a direct home-community level. While I was caretaking for Dannielle, I always
wondered why aestheticians and other service providers couldn’t be given clearance to offer services to patients in care facilities and hospitals. Watching Dannielle go through what she did, she would have absolutely loved getting a facial, a hair wash, manicure, anything that could have helped her feel better.
While visiting Dannielle daily at the hospital it really bothered me that this wasn’t something offered. Whether the patient is terminal or not, able to walk or not, they all deserve that level of care, and the healthcare system doesn’t currently allow for this. We can have aestheticians in a dermatology office, prepping skin for surgery, but we can’t have them in care clinics and oncology floors to do safe services? The moment a patient gets to a certain point in their cancer journey, all the extra little things stop. Sometimes it takes years for this time to come, in other cases such as Dannielle’s, it comes within months. Like many others have with their loved ones, I watched Dannielle’s quality of life diminish quickly. From difficulty walking and mobilizing around
the house on an electric scooter, to then being bed bound, relying on mine and my husband’s care 24/7, and eventually living the remainder of her life in hospitals and rehabilitation centers. It was heartbreaking to witness
something as awful as what she went through and never having a day to feel normal and free again.
As a Licensed Aesthetician, Oncology Trained, I look forward to collaborating and creating more safe spaces for cancer survivors at any stage to easily find, relax in, and feel at ease, giving them back some of the joy they have lost. All cancer patients, survivors and thrivers should know they can go from the clinic to the spa with full support of their entire wellness team and hopefully both the medical and beauty industries can learn to work together to provide better support in the near future. Cancer patients and survivors deserve to be treated for both their illness and mental health, synergistically.