Oncology Skin Care: Mary Nielsen

My new client was a prominent member of the town’s upper crust. She was a matriarch of the city’s demographic that had way more disposable income than I did. She was known to be a long-term client at a well-established facial salon, and I was delighted that she had made an appointment for a facial with me. It was going to be a feather in my cap if I could recruit her business. I knew my appointments would increase if she was pleased with my service and her word-of-mouth would be an important marketing move for me. 

She was a short, stocky woman, well known for her bleached blond long hair at an age when most women had at least hints of gray streaked throughout. She loved obviously false lashes, jewel-colored eyeshadow, bright colors, and wearing hats with matching shoes and purse. She was a community leader in many areas. Her family was guaranteed to fill a table at every charity dinner for every imaginable cause—the women’s shelter, dog rescue, local theatre, school sports. You name it, the family kept things running. She kept the balls in the air. She hosted teas and luncheons to raise awareness for endangered species, community college art fairs, and more. She was charismatic, used to getting her way, and her personality filled the room. 

I had carefully prepared the facial treatment room for her visit, making sure everything was perfect. She blew into the waiting room in a grand way, in a deep pink Jackie O. hat, matching purse, and pumps. I escorted her down the hall and into the room. The room was dimly lit. I indicated the chair and area for her to place her things. She plopped her purse down and yanked off her hat. She turned to me and said, “Do you mind if I take off my wig?” and without waiting for my reply, she pulled her wig off her head and placed it on the lampshade. There she stood, bald as an egg. I’m sure my eyes widened as I tried to stop my mouth from falling open. 

I left the room to give her privacy to put on her spa gown. Upon my return, she was settled nicely into the facial bed. In her spa gown, she seemed tinier and frailer than she had in her couture suit a few minutes before. I began the facial experience. With dim lighting, quiet spa background music, and the connection of human touch, I felt Kate’s armor fall away. Her body relaxed into the bed. Tears began to silently flow down the sides of her face onto the towel beneath her head. Occasionally, she would emote a tiny shudder as she cried. I continued performing the steps of the facial without saying a word. I decided that since this was our first personal encounter, I’d let her initiate the conversation when she was ready. 

Eventually, she said softly, “I’m so tired. I’m carrying so much and I’m so tired.” 

Slowly, she shared that she had terminal cancer. She was secretly getting treatments out of town. She didn’t feel she could reveal that kind of information to anyone. She couldn’t bear to be the subject of town gossip. She couldn’t see her regular esthetician because she didn’t trust her confidentiality. She was worried about her husband, her children, and grandchildren’s ability to manage the family dynamics without her vitality and guidance. She was also fretting about the numerous charities that she supported and how they would continue without her influence. She was right. She was carrying a lot. 

The facial was finished and when she exited the treatment room, her persona was in place again; strong, driven family matron.

Kate died in her sleep several weeks after her appointment with me. I never told anyone she had been my client. I didn’t reap the benefits of a word-of-mouth referral from her. My appointment book didn’t fill up. But I consider the privilege of being able to let her be vulnerable and give her personal attention and human touch an immeasurable gift and one of the most satisfying reasons for continuing in this profession. 

Story of inspiration provided by

Mary Nielsen, LE and executive director of Spectrum Advanced Aesthetics Institute
Esthetician for 20+ years
Practicing oncology skin care for 15 years



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