Emmy-award winning makeup artist Jan Ping has worked with most of the faces on the silver screen, including favorites Betty White and Cindy Crawford. When she was diagnosed with cancer 4 years ago, it wasn't an A-list celebrity with Beverly Hills connections who was her salvation. It was Nancy Cushing, RN, the oncology nurse navigator for breast cancer at Huntington Hospital in Padadena, CA.
Currently employed by the Dr. Phil show and The Doctors, Ping was working on a different talk show when she first became ill.
"The doctor called with my results and asked if I was in a quiet place. I was at the playground of my daughter's school, as quiet as it could be, and he told me over the phone of my diagnosis. I asked him if I was going to die and he said he couldn't answer that," she recalled.
Within an hour, her nurse Nancy was on the phone, asking how Ping was handling the news and answering those initial questions.
"It's almost 5 years later and I still talk to her," Ping said. "I have 'chemo brain' and go in and out of memory loss all the time. I still call the nurse about my head issues and she always says, 'Why waste time? Let's set up an appointment to get it checked out.' This is almost 5 years later and she's still responsive."
The Power of Good Concealer
As Ping didn't have the luxury of a leave of absence during her yearlong treatment regimen, which included a lumpectomy, two courses of radiation, a second surgery and chemotherapy, she considered her work on medical talk shows a blessing. Frequently, Dr. Phil or The Doctors would have guests with cancer and she'd relish the chance to make them look as presentable as possible for the camera.
Despite the intense treatments, Ping felt a strong desire to give back. She tried to volunteer with the American Cancer Society, but was told volunteer applicants needed to complete treatment to be considered.
When Ping got a clean bill of health, the American Cancer Society asked if she could use her makeup artistry as part of their Look Good, Feel Better campaign. Today, she travels the country educating oncology nurses on the dermatologic side effects of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) inhibitor treatment and supporting patients' emotional and aesthetic needs. EGFR inhibitor therapy aims to interrupt tumor growth by disrupting signals sent from the EGFT, which is found on the surface of some cancer cells. Because EGFR is also present on other normal cells in the body, including skin cells, skin rash occurs in up to 90 percent of patients undergoing treatment with an EGFR inhibitor. This can be serious and potentially life-threatening. Further, in its mild-to-moderate state, skin rash can cause patients physical discomfort and take an emotional toll, affecting body image.
"Being diagnosed with cancer is a very private and isolating experience," said Ping. "You turn around and enter treatment that makes what was private very public. You have to deal with what it does to your self image."
Naturally, there are a wide range of side effects to manage. With women, Ping makes recommendations for dealing with hair loss, be it on the head brows or lashes. For males, she gets many questions on rashes and reactions. Ping was surprised by the men's reactions to her concealer tips.
"In my world, men wear makeup every day," she quipped.
Based on her admiration for her nurse Nancy, the enthusiasm of the RNs she encounters isn't surprising. Her audiences at ONSEdge events use their personal time to attend her lectures. ONSEdge is an educational branch of the Oncology Nursing Society, connecting its 36,000 members with leading healthcare speakers.
"Nurses aren't makeup artists, but having someone acknowledge the emotional/physical/psychological challenges of cancer treatment is very big," she said. "If a nurse can recommend a makeup line, it's a big deal for a patient. Nurses realize the magnitude of this. They've done so much for me in my treatment. Because of their compassion, they understand how much the side effects can affect how we feel about ourselves, which affects the treatment."
Robin Hocevar is senior regional editor at ADVANCE.