updated 12/10/2013 AT 2:15 PM ET
•originally published 12/10/2013 AT 7:45 AM ET
For cancer patients, a surprise often means bad news. One French charity decided to change that.
The Mimi Foundation is an organization devoted to improving cancer patients’ quality of life throughout the treatment process. For its “If Only For a Second” project, the charity teamed with photographer Vincent Dixon to give extravagant makeovers to 20 cancer patients.
Each was told to close his or her eyes during the session, and only open them once the transformation was complete.
Dixon, hiding behind a one-way mirror, was able to capture the shock and delight on the subjects’ faces the first second they saw their new look.
“You immediately stop being carefree when you learn that you’re ill,” one of the patents told the foundation. For just one second, she was able to forget about her illness.
Watch the video, then read PEOPLE’s story about how one town made a 5-year-old cancer patient’s wish come true.