During a photo shoot for breast cancer awareness, the 5-foot-9-inch 39-year-old Coqueace “KoCo” Powell stands tall in her six-inch stripper heels. Her feet are still swollen and sensitive from chemotherapy, and stripper shoes come padded for women who spend hours on their feet. They make her feel slim, powerful and sexy. Pink sparkly, ribbon-shaped earrings the size of an éclair donut frame her fearless facade to offset her nearly bald head. She purses her lips, squints through her dazzling makeup and peels her shoulders back bearing her chest proudly. I can see dark scars from her double mastectomy through her thin white T-shirt—after six surgeries she opted out of breast reconstruction because she was tired of it all. This decision left her with grisly scars that look like dark chocolate syrup on her milky chocolate skin, and slits where areolas used to be. She is beautiful.
The scars tell stories of the last three years—from when her lymph nodes were removed, one from the “chemo port,” another from the double mastectomy, and the last from the implants. Soon she will have new scars from a total hysterectomy. She felt “numb, neutered and unfeminine” during treatment and jokes that she needs to carry around her passport to prove she is a woman. KoCo was 36 when she was diagnosed, and like all woman fighting cancer, they want to look like themselves again—beautiful. Now KoCo provides beauty services for other cancer survivors.
Tall shoes, huge earrings and dramatic makeup are what KoCo calls her “armor” to fight the ugliness of cancer. But every woman is different. Some prefer headscarves, some prefer to show their bald head, some want to look natural but not sick.
Sherree Bennett, cancer survivor and director of the Joan Katz Breast Center at Baylor All Saints Medical Center in Fort Worth, says, “It’s not that a woman with cancer would rather die than lose her hair and her breasts. It’s more like, OK… if I survive, will there be anything left of me after chemotherapy? Will I still be pretty? Will I scare my children? Will my husband still like me? Will I still be a woman?”
The Fort Worth American Cancer Society, the Joan Katz Breast Center’s Survivor Gals Boutique, and Harris Hospital’s Cancer Boutique in the Klabzuba Tower provide everything from scarves, wigs, hats, breast prosthesis, witty shirts, eyebrows, hats and more. They host two-hour “Look Good, Feel Better” courses provided by ACS that teach women how to make a wig more comfortable, how to apply brow wigs and eye lashes, how to care for the sensitive skin that comes with chemo and headscarf fashion tips. Bennett said a lot of times it doubles as a support group where women meet others going through the same thing.
“It is amazing to watch the women be transformed. Their faces light up and smile when they see what can be done,” says Joy Donovan, Fort Worth ACS communications manager.
Wig specialist Eliscia Herrera at Stylemakers Salon on Lancaster also offers free wig consultations in a private studio.
“I want to help people feel like themselves again. I want to let them know this is going to be the least of their worries…[and] a lot of times it ends up being really fun,” Herrera said. “I like to keep it upbeat and positive.”
Horrid side effects can make beauty difficult, but Fort Worth has many options to help cancer patients still feel like the person they always were, which Bennett said is important in the process of fighting cancer