Don’t give up on yourself: Linda Kilburn

She had just turned 30; a single mother with a great kid and a great job…she covered a huge territory in sales for the Oscar de la Renta line of scent products. She was in a new relationship and the future looked pretty rosy, especially in light of the challenges of the past. Her new relationship was feeling so special that she had decided to leave the urban life of the GTA and consider a move to Barrie.

Life was offering a new beginning.

This articulate, attractive, intelligent, focussed woman was building it all: great career, great family prospects, and good solid friends from the cosmetic industry.

A simple test on a tiny bump turned into a biopsy which turned into non-hodgkins lymphoma.

Overnight, Linda’s life just stopped. She lost herself and her reality as she began chemo at Princess Margaret and was referred to her new Barrie oncologist, Dr. Bryn Pressnail. Linda looks at that introduction to Barrie as the start of never looking back. She continued her treatments and lived through the tumult of losing her hair, her eyebrows, her eyelashes, and with that her sense of self.

She found that life offered a ‘new’ normal.

Her new boyfriend? He married her. And together, Linda and Mike Kilburn began a life that has gifted literally thousands of women following the cancer path.

As a non-hodgkins lymphoma patient, Linda is not free of cancer. She does regular blood work, and has somehow built her life around the instability of never knowing. “I’ll see Bryn Pressnail til they find a cure,” she smiles.

Now, this is not a cancer story, really. And it’s not a sad story, either. It’s a story about one woman who was respected in her field of work. It’s a story about one of her best friends, Sherry, in the same field (Revlon). It’s the story of two women who were diagnosed with cancer two weeks apart. It about the spiral down, the tornado of emotion, the anger, the loss, the denial, the rage, the acceptance. It’s about loss.

And then it’s about two friends, Linda and Sherry, who grabbed their experience and found its goodness. Together, and then separately, they embraced the “Look Good, Feel Better” program that has been offered to women facing cancer treatment in the Barrie and Toronto communities. Modelling their program on the American “Cancer Confidence and You” model, Sherry and Linda watched the enthusiasm grow as they shared the concept at a Canadian Cosmetics Toiletries and Fragrances Association meeting. The Look Good idea took over and Sherry Abbott and her Revlon experience was instrumental in launching a positive, helpful program for women going through cancer treatment in Toronto.

Linda asked her to come to Barrie to begin the program here. It was hard to generate enthusiasm for Barrie because there were so few centres across Canada offering this kind of practical insight into the cancer reality for women.

A team of aestheticians came up to help with Barrie¹s first Look Good Feel Better meeting. Sherry Abbott volunteered to be the model. Women registered for this workshop through the oncology department and the Cancer Society. Ten women showed up. Linda lead the workshop.

They were given power to apply makeup, to use and understand products and their impact, to feel better about how they looked. A group of 10 women gave each other two things: strength, and intimacy. Each woman brought a female friend with her and the friends were asked to take notes and give support. The goal? To regain control. When your life is spiralling out of control, takiing control back is a big thing. When you choose to cut your hair off rather than watch it fall in clumps, you take control. When you learn how to recreate your eyelashes and eyebrows, you say to the world, “don¹t give up on me.”

For many women that begins with not giving up on themselves.

Look Good Feel Better has been running monthly for almost 15 years. Volunteer aestheticians give their time and cosmetic companies give their product.

While Look Good Feel Better gave Linda Kilburn a renewed sense of purpose, it was just the beginning. At the invitation of a friend, Linda opened a hair salon and hair prosthesis centre, a branch of a Toronto service. She brought her own style and decor to the Barrie site, and opened on Alliance Blvd. For eight years Linda¹s comfortable, homey atmosphere has given privacy to her clients. In comfortable rooms, decorated with antiques and art, Linda listens, hears, and helps. She talks about options. She listens some more. She cracks open a window of opportunity, a consideration of a path that can only be pointed to by someone who has already walked the way.

By helping women and children (and men, too) confront the stark realities of chemotherapy, Linda has given them back the power of choice. She helps people select hair style and colour of wigs; she rejoices at the person who walks in with tears and with laughter on the way out. She rejoices at sharing that intimate journey. She mourns a loss.

And now that she has stepped away from that part of her energy, she looks back on what she gave and what she received.

Linda’s former business partner will continue the hair prosthesis centre in Barrie while Linda carries on with the Look Good Feel Better program. She will continue to learn about and share new colours, new styles, new makeup techniques. She will continue to embrace women in that tough, tough time of their lives. She recalls the time a mother and daughter both came to Look
Good Feel Better… both diagnosed with cancer at the same time.

The Cancer Relay for Life, the new Cancer Awareness Group, the newly developing Cancer Centre… all these efforts get Linda Kilburn’s attention. And her “retirement” will give her time for her own decor business, a practical approach to designing with what you already have. She wants to travel with husband Mike, CEO at Del Labs. She wants to continue enjoying her kids as they start their adult phases.

What a remarkable women. To take her loss and turn it to benefit for so, so, so many people.

Thanks, Linda.