Tuesday 22 October 2019

Meet the woman who wants to ensure that cancer patients don't lose their self-esteem to illness

Louise O'Loughlin wants to ensure that cancer patients don't lose their self-esteem to illness. She tells Joy Orpen she is teaching beauty therapists how they can help oncology patients feel better about themselves

Louise O'Loughlin of Iguazu Beauty Therapy in Dublin. Photo: David Conachy
Louise O'Loughlin of Iguazu Beauty Therapy in Dublin. Photo: David Conachy

Louise O'Loughlin (38) is a pioneer when it comes to helping women who are living with serious illness. And while the medical profession has achieved wonders in managing the different forms of cancer, she's dealing with the emotional and aesthetic aspects of illness.

Louise's journey began in Rush, Co Dublin. Like many young girls, she loved horses. But unlike most, she had her own, which she named Sir Hopkins after the Welsh actor Sir Anthony Hopkins. The pair competed at show-jumping events all over the country. While in secondary school, she was a member of the Loreto Balbriggan equestrian team. Back then, Louise was absolutely certain her future lay in this horsey world.

But unfortunately, in sixth year, she hurt her back. "I had three falls in a row," she recalls. "Then, one day, while helping Mam with the shopping, I dislocated a disc in my back, and was told I'd have to give up jumping."

It was a devastating blow for this determined young woman, but she didn't sit at home bemoaning her fate. Instead, she went to Spain to learn the language, and then ended up in a riding stables in the Canaries. But due to her back injury, it didn't work out.

All along, Louise's mother Colette had been urging Louise to train in beauty therapy because she felt Louise had a natural ability when it came to health and healing.

"Growing up, we were comfortable, but there was no excess cash around," explains Louise. "Nonetheless, my mother always took good care of her skin. And because there was a gap of eight years between me and my nearest sibling, I'd accompany her to the salon when she had her facials. At home, I would mimic what I'd seen at the salon and Mam thought I had magic hands. So she wanted me to do massage or beauty therapy."

Although Louise only signed up with the Bronwyn Conroy Beauty School to humour her mother, by the second day of training, she was smitten. "I absolutely loved learning all about the skin and how it reveals what is going on elsewhere inside the body," says Louise. A year later, armed with the prestigious Cidesco international qualification, she began her working life in earnest. Less than two years later, she was asked by a US company making beauty products to become a professional trainer in Ireland. "That was my step up into education," says Louise.

When she was 26, she opened her own salon in Rush. She also did a diploma in teacher training so she could run advanced courses for therapists who already had a qualification.

As far as her personal life was concerned, in 2005 Louise fell in love with local builder Neil Kelly. In 2012, their daughter, Maggie, was born. That joyous occasion was soon overshadowed by the fact that early in 2013, Louise's mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

"I was close to Mam," explains Louise. "She had hearing problems and needed someone with her at all her appointments, so I closed the salon and worked from home."

Once Colette's treatment had come to an end, about 30 members of their extended family spent Christmas with her in Fuerteventura in the Canaries. But sadly, some time after they returned from holiday, Colette learned that her cancer had spread.

"She was given two or three years at the most," says Louise. "And, at worst, six months. It was so sad. Everyone just loved her. She was incredibly kind and thoughtful. She was always writing little notes to people because she cared so much for them. But she was also very proud and glamorous."

Louise says that wasn't their only experience of terminal illness. Colette's sister Bernadette had lost her 10-year battle with a brain tumour four years previously. "So Mam was very aware of what was ahead for her and was determined to do things her way," Louise said.

And although Colette did undergo treatment, it wasn't successful. "She was very, very sick with no real quality of life," explains Louise. "So she chose to stop further intervention. The cancer had spread to her bowels and she couldn't even eat; all she wanted was to go back to her own bed on the first floor of her home on the beach." And that's where she was when she left this world, surrounded by the love and care of her four children. It was just six weeks after she'd been given the second diagnosis.

One of Louise's greatest regrets was that she hadn't been able to do much for her ailing mother when it came to beauty treatments. "I wasn't trained to deal with someone who had cancer," says Louise. "And I couldn't find anyone near us who was. Mam was too nauseous to travel far. I could give her head and neck massages, and she loved those. Reiki was fine, too."

In 2018, Louise ended up doing an intensive course in oncology aesthetics in Italy, with a training institute that had originally been founded in Canada. She is now about to run her own courses in Ireland, based on what she learned there.

"Basically, the course adapts beauty treatments to the client's specific medical and aesthetic needs," explains Louise.

She says there is no question of them doing anything like lymph drainage. "Only a physiotherapist who is qualified to do so, should do that," she says emphatically. But they can do body massage. "We are always mindful of what areas of the body to avoid, so as not to cause any further damage, or to increase the risks of infection or injury," she explains, adding, "Chemotherapy often causes loss of hair and eyebrows, so we can teach our clients how to replace them using make-up. And if there are skin problems due to treatment, we can use gentle, hydrating, non-invasive products to soothe and calm the skin.

"The feedback we get from clients is that finally they can relax and enjoy being pampered, because the person doing the treatment understands their specific needs, and won't cause any additional damage.

"It also gives them a great lift to feel they've been cosseted, and that some of their aesthetic beauty needs have been resolved. Then there is the psychological side of things. You don't need some therapist who knows nothing about cancer going, 'Oh, isn't that awful, I feel so sorry for you'. We're trained to say very little; we are there to listen, to let the client talk and to be supportive."

And in doing so, Louise and her new recruits will hopefully give back to women - who are severely challenged - their self-esteem and more hope for the future.

For more information, contact Louise O'Loughlin at Iguazu Beauty Therapy, Dublin, email louise@oti-oncologytraining.com

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