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March 8, 2023

Body image and cancer treatment

In Cancer Treatment, For Employers, For Consultants

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Your body image is your mental picture of how you look. Before cancer, you were used to the picture of yourself that you carried in your mind.

Then cancer came along. If the illness or its treatment has affected your appearance, it’s natural to have feelings about that. In some cases, it may take time to feel comfortable in your skin again. Here’s what to expect and tips on how to cope.

Cancer and your appearance

These are some of the ways that cancer or its treatment may change how a person looks:

  • Hair loss

  • Skin or nail changes

  • Weight loss or gain

  • Scars from surgery

  • Surgical removal of all or part of a breast or limb

Some changes in appearance are short-term, but others are lasting. They may be easily seen, or they may not be noticeable to most people.

Whatever changes you are dealing with, don’t be surprised if they give rise to strong feelings, such as sadness or anger. Know that you’re not alone in feeling this way. Body image concerns are common during and after cancer treatment.

Rebuilding your self-image

The following are some strategies for coping with cancer-related changes in your appearance:

Give yourself time to grieve. Many people feel a sense of loss during cancer treatment, whether the disease has taken part of their body or some of their self-confidence. If you’re feeling this way, allow yourself to mourn what you have lost.

Open up about how you feel. Voicing painful feelings can help you let go of them. Share how you feel with supportive family and friends as well as your healthcare team.

Consider joining a support group. Talking with other cancer survivors who have gone through similar experiences can be a great source of encouragement and practical advice.

Refocus your point of view. What has cancer given you that is positive? For example, has it made you stronger or wiser? 

Take charge of the image you present to the world. Do what makes you feel most confident and in control. For example, if you lose your hair, you might choose to wear a flattering wig, hat, or scarf. Or you might opt to embrace the bald look.

Coping with changes in appearance may be difficult at first. Over time, however, you can learn to adjust and get comfortable with yourself again. If you need a hand with making this adjustment, ask your healthcare provider to refer you to a counselor who can help. If you have AccessHope as a benefit provided to you through your employer, you can also call our Cancer Support Team for a shoulder to lean on.

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