American Cancer Society volunteer helps patients feel beautiful

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Plainfield - posted Tue., Aug. 6, 2013
Rebecca Theriaque and her son share a light moment. Courtesy photo. - Contributed Photo

Theater is one of Rebecca Theriaque's passions. The 34-year-old Plainfield resident is producing “The Little Shop of Horrors” at the Broad Street Theater in Danielson through Aug. 11. For opening night, she is combining her love of theater with her dedication to the American Cancer Society.

She's always loved theater. Cancer was a different story entirely. Six years ago she discovered she had ovarian cancer after doctors performed an emergency C-section, delivering her son, LJ. Because doctors didn't know the extent of the cancer or how long she had to live, they told her to prepare for the worst. She was 28 years old.

“I had to prepare not to be there for him,” Theriaque said. “It was horrific.”

She prepared by writing and creating videos. The ovarian cancer went into remission. Then she was diagnosed with primary peritoneal cancer. A combination of chemotherapy and radiation recently ended, but she has six weeks of radiation remaining. She lost her hair three months ago, but it has started growing back. Today, she wears it in a short Mohawk, the middle ridge of it raised an inch and colored pink. That is, unless she is wearing one of her wigs.

Theriaque styled the wigs herself. She's a cosmetologist with Ulta Beauty in Lisbon. A year ago, she was certified with the American Cancer Society to be an instructor in their “Look Good, Feel Better” Program. Theriaque now helps cancer patients learn how to take care of their hair, skin and nails during treatments. “Nothing hurts a woman more than to look into the mirror and not like what looks back at her, and not be able to change it,” Theriaque said. “I feel one of my missions in life is to give them the choice to change it.”

Day Kimball Hospital Director of Oncology Tricia Holland Caprera said the “Look Good, Feel Better” program can be a boon for patients receiving cancer treatments. “It is such a joy for women to be able to sit with other women and realize that they can still look lovely,” Caprera said. “They can put on makeup or take on a new look with a hair piece, scarf or jewelry, compliment themselves and go out the door and feel good.”

Caprera said the program is important because it provides women with an opportunity to interact in a supportive environment. “You aren't taking care of anyone in your family. You're not holding anyone in your family up. You're spending time with people going through the same things you are. It's a good networking thing. It's a time for a person to take care of herself,” Caprera said.

When an instructor has been through cancer treatments herself, it changes the whole demeanor of the class, according to Lisa Uguccioni, community executive of health initiatives with the American Cancer Society. “The women know that the instructor gets it,” Uguccioni said. “She's been through what they've been through. She's lost her hair. She's felt ill.” Patients put their trust in the instructor's expertise, and the instructor gets a boost as well. “They get an unbelievable lift out of the program,” Uguccioni said.

Theriaque had to get certified and licensed in cosmetology, she had to get certified through ACS, and she's had to participate in bi-annual training and train hospital staff. The commitment is significant, but worth it to Theriaque. “I love, love, love it,” said Theriaque. “I cannot tell you how much it means to me to go into those workshops.”

Theriaque's sense of style has been honed by her work in community theater. She's a pro and a marketing wiz, according to Nicholas Magrey, who is directing “The Little Shop of Horrors.” He's known Theriaque for more than 10 years and has worked with her on several different shows. “She has an amazing imagination and an amazing work ethic,” Magrey said. “She doesn't rest until things are just right. She has wonderful ideas, brings them to the table, and won't quit until she brings them to fruition.”

Plainfield Rotary president Jim Humphrey agrees. Theriaque has produced a country-western talent show for them for eight years, bringing in between $10,000 and $12,000 annually for the club. “She puts out a fantastic show,” said Humphrey. “She starts working in December for the May show.” Not only does she choose the performers, but she works closely with them right up until they perform for the judges. “She does an amazing job,” he said.

Opening night for “The Little Shop of Horrors” brought rave reviews from the audience, and more than $500 for the ACS.

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