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Woman on a beauty mission

Look Good Feel Better is a charity which gives makeovers and beauty advice to women with cancer. Beauty consultant Shelina Hiriki, 35, lives in Croydon, south London

Trying to make someone feel beautiful at the worst time in their life isn’t the easiest thing, but that’s why our monthly Look Good Feel Better workshops are so important. Over two hours we show women how to deal with the physical side effects of cancer. Its about improving confidence and giving the clients a break from the ‘C’ word with some much-needed pampering. When I first started I was shocked at how fun and lively the sessions can get. Now I love that it gets so rowdy, we all forget that we’re in a hospital.

I’ve been doing the workshops for 10 years now and am also trying to start my own events business, so no two days are ever the same.

I drag myself out of bed at 7.30am, have a bowl of Bran Flakes and head to the gym. Then it’s back for a shower and to check my emails in my bedroom; it’s my favourite room in the flat. I’ve got a big bookcase for all the books I never finish and so many scented candles that my boyfriend Haji is convinced I’m going to burn the flat down.

I leave the house at 12pm but never without a full face of make-up. On the day of a workshop I go all out. It helps me to feel more professional and it’s good for the women to feel inspired. I catch a train to each workshop, which will be at one of a number of hospitals around south London or Surrey. I grab a cheese sandwich on the way from M&S and get there around 1pm.

When I arrive at the hospital, I get the make-up bags ready for the ladies. Loads of beauty brands donate products for us to use. They are all hypoallergenic so as not to irritate delicate skin, and cater for a range of shades and skintones.

First, I take my clients through our 12-point beauty plan, written on A4 sheets which they then take home. Some of it is basic and some of it’s more specific; how to brighten your skin when chemo has drained your colour, how to lighten it again when your cancer drugs give you hot flushes.

You might assume that when you’re going through such harsh treatment, beauty would be last on your list of priorities. And it can be hard at first: a lot of these women have been subjected to so much that they don’t want to be touched. But the reaction to the workshop is always positive. Women suffering from cancer still want to feel feminine, and I’m proud to help.

We introduce the products, but I know the bit they’re all waiting for is the ‘eyebrows’ section. A lot of them have lost their brows and lashes and it knocks their confidence, almost more than losing the hair on their heads. I show them how to ‘plot’ their brow using their nose, their pupil and the corner of their eye as markers. I use one of the women as a model to demonstrate. You’d be surprised how little we talk about cancer.

I’ve done more than 100 of these workshops now but I’ve met many people I’ll always remember. On my third ever session I met an 18-year-old girl with leukaemia. I know that cancer doesn’t discriminate, but I was only 25 at the time and it scared me how young she was. She had never really worn much make-up before and I just felt so sad for her that her first experience of applying it was under such extreme circumstances.

I finish my day around 5pm and Haji picks me up. I’m always on a massive high after the workshop. Even if personal issues or money worries are getting me down, two hours in the company of those women puts everything in perspective.

If I had my own way I’d just have humous and pitta bread for dinner but Haji always wants meat so I normally whip up a curry (I’m half Ugandan, half Indian) and we sit down to watch TV before bed. Haji pretends he doesn’t like endless repeats of Sex And The City but I’ve seen him laughing on more than one occasion.

For volunteering information and a Look Good Feel Better confidence kit, visit lookgoodfeelbetter.co.uk

Picture credit: Gemma Day