Everviolet Chats with Looking & Feeling FAB Founder, Holly Brown

Holly Brown is an oncology-trained esthetician from Massachusetts who was diagnosed in her mid-twenties with both Multiple Sclerosis and a lung disease called Sarcoidosis. Similar to cancer, chemotherapy is sometimes used in the treatment of Sarcoidosis to suppress the immune system, yet while undergoing these infusions, Holly developed a horrible and painful rash. Her quest for relief led her to discover a profound lack of resources addressing the skin-related side effects of cancer therapies. Determined to fill this gap, she founded Looking & Feeling FAB in 2013, driven by a vision to provide specialized care for those going through these hardships. 

Fast forward to today, Looking & Feeling FAB is an incredible nonprofit that provides custom treatments for cancer patients' skin concerns. As the first organization of its kind, their expertise has transformed thousands of lives, offering healing and education to individuals navigating the complex and varying side effects of treatment. Through education and advocacy, they provide hope and an enhanced way of living, empowering both patients and medical professionals alike. To read more about Holly's journey and learn more about Looking & Feeling FAB, read our latest Everviolet Chats.

Can you share with us the personal journey with Multiple Sclerosis and Sarcoidosis that led you to found Looking & Feeling FAB, Inc.?

Sure! I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis when I was 25, and when I was in Esthetic school (2013), I was diagnosed with a lung disease called Sarcoidosis. Because of the two autoimmune diseases, my doctors felt the best form of treatment was chemotherapy. So, I received an infusion every 6 months. The medicine worked wonders for me, but I developed a really bad rash on my back. When I told my doctor about it, he looked at me and said, “Oh wait, you’re an esthetician, right?” I said, “Yes,” and he said, “Great!” To which I said, “Great, what?” He said, “You should know what to do.” I was stunned. Then after researching how prevalent skin reactions are, I learned there was no help available. That is when I attended the Oncology Esthetics training and had the idea to start a nonprofit

What motivated you to focus specifically on alleviating skin side effects from cancer treatment?

When I was starting Looking & Feeling FAB, I did a lot of research. What I found was shocking. Skin issues are the number one reported side effects of cancer treatment, with 85% of people who go through radiation developing a moderate to severe burn. These significant side effects are not discussed. In fact, only if you have gone through it or know someone else who did would you know they existed. I was intrigued by the lack of knowledge and care that went into helping these people who were suffering. I knew firsthand how these issue can decrease someone’s quality of life. I had to offer help.

Could you speak to the emotional toll that cancer treatment can take on patients, particularly in relation to changes in physical appearance and skin health?

The emotional toll of cancer itself is significant. It affects everything. You can't do the things you like, you feel awful from the treatment, you're exhausted and your savings are depleted. Oh, and you will also develop a first-degree burn from radiation. You will likely lose your hair and develop skin reactions that no one prepares you for, and most importantly, has no answers or solutions. It’s so frustrating!

How does Looking & Feeling FAB tailor its treatments to each individual's unique situation and needs?

When someone joins one of our programs, we do an intensive intake and learn about the history of what they have been through. We seek to understand what types of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and targeted immunotherapies they've had. The treatment recipe changes with everyone and are customized to the individual. We ask questions about which side effects they are experiencing and where they are in their treatment. The most important part is doing a follow-up intake with every visit, because while the skin might be looking good and under control in one moment, all of a sudden their dose could increase and their face could becomes dry, peeling and itchy.

What role does education play in your organization's approach to treating skin side effects from cancer treatment?

Education is very important, because when someone undergoes treatment for cancer, their skin is forever compromised. It's important to educate our patients about how to select the right products and, most importantly, ones that do not contain cancer-causing ingredients or ingredients that affect hormones and could potentially interfere with the efficacy of treatment. A lot of people don’t realize how unregulated the US skincare industry is, so we teach people how to read the labels.

Also, if someone has had lymph nodes removed and they go to someone for a massage or facial who is not educated about cancer, the practitioner could actually hurt them or cause a condition called lymphedema, which is when the lymph fluid builds up and causes swelling. Yet, no doctors warn their clients about any of these precautions.

Can you recount a particularly moving encounter with a patient whose life was deeply impacted by the services provided by Looking & Feeling FAB?

Yes, we had a client who was on a targeted therapy and had stage 4 cancer. This client was in so much pain that they described it as "1000 bees stinging their face." They were insistent on stopping the medication, because they could not live with these side effects. When I saw the client for the first time, there were red sores ripping off the skin. It was a Wednesday, and I set them up with a regimen. On Friday, they told me they got their first night's sleep since being on the medication. The following Wednesday, there were no more sores. I was so surprised! A month later, we saw the client at an event and they said to us, "You and your organization are why I am alive, because I would have stopped my medication if you didn’t alleviate those side effects." There is no deeper impact than that.

How has Looking & Feeling FAB evolved since its founding in 2013?

Wow, where do I begin. First, we have more practitioners and facilities than I could have ever imagined. We have learned so much and had so many different experiences with treating skin that now, there is not much that we can't tackle. It's always a challenge when someone presents us with a different case and then we have to come up with a treatment plan. But if it works, that's more experience that we can add to our tool belt.

I recently saw a client who originally saw me do a presentation 5 years ago. When I finished my talk, the booklet we handed out was only 3 pages. Now it's 6. The client said, "It's apparent how advanced you are and how much you have grown. Keep up the great work you are doing!" That was one of the best compliments I have ever gotten, and made it clear how much we have evolved.

In what ways do you collaborate with the medical community and other organizations in the cancer treatment space?

We always get referred to the medical community by clients, and when they see what we can do to solve the skin issues, they become a believer. Once they support us, we offer presentations or mini treatments in their facilities. When other organizations hear what we are doing, they are intrigued because it's a niche yet much-needed service. I have done a lot of networking since we first started collaborating with different agencies, seeing how we can help each other succeed. In the beginning, I also did a lot of outreach, because I had no idea what I was doing. Other agencies were willing to give me guidance and advice.

What are some challenges you've faced in running a nonprofit dedicated to this cause, and how have you overcome them?

I think the first challenge is that I started a nonprofit with no idea how to run or develop one. I was faced with such adversity, but when I became so tired of hearing about all the things I couldn’t do, I was determined to start it. When I got approved and became a 501c3, I was really horrified because I needed business guidance. I ended up taking some classes and eventually went back for my Bachelor's Degree in Business with a Concentration in Non-profit Management (I officially became a graduate this month!).

Another challenge I had in the beginning was getting people to believe in what I was doing and its benefits. We've had a hard time getting funding and donations because unfortunately, in the US, skincare and skincare treatments are regarded as a luxury. But when someone is fighting cancer, it's more of a necessity. It drives me crazy when big multimillion-dollar charities use donations inappropriately. Always donate to local grassroots charities so you can be sure every dollar goes toward helping the cause!

What advice would you give to individuals or families navigating the challenges of cancer treatment and its side effects?

Call me! (LOL.) No, but really – there is help out there, you just may have to look for it. You don’t have to suffer alone without hope. There is so much potential out there, and keep the faith. Keep fighting until you get what you need. Never give up.

Looking ahead, what are your hopes and goals for the future of Looking & Feeling FAB?

My goal is to be able to offer services to everyone who needs them, no matter where they are in the country or the world. I would like our logo to become a recognized symbol, so that someone fighting cancer will recognize it and find a safe place to seek help.

For those who are inspired by your organization's mission, where can they go to donate and support your efforts?

Go to our website www.lookfeelfab.org, where there is a donate link on the homepage. You can call me at (339) 216-7059 or email me at holly@lookfeelfab.org. Also, please follow us on Facebook and Instagram to view the fundraisers we are having.

What does Everviolet’s mantra “Beauty of Change” mean to you?

It means that beauty is so important, but it needs to be changed to ensure that it is appropriate. By appropriate, I mean that we need to regulate the beauty care industry so that we are making safe, non-toxic products that won't put people at risk of disease and sickness.