Adjusting to Changes in Your body and self-image
Courtesy of the American Cancer Society
Cancer and its treatment can cause physical changes. Some people feel insecure about how these changes affect their body and their self-image.
Surgery can change the way you look. Other treatments can affect how you feel. Side effects from cancer treatment, such as weight loss or weight gain, hair loss, and skin changes can also change the way you look. Fatigue can make it harder for you to care for your appearance.
The type of treatment, the drugs and their dosages, and the schedule of treatment all have an impact on the side effects you have. Just how bad the side effects are can vary from person to person. The same treatments may cause side effects in some people and not in others. Be sure to let your doctor and nurse know which side effects you have, if any, and how bad they are.
Your health care team can help manage side effects when they know how treatment is affecting you physically and emotionally. In early cancer treatment, the treatments sometimes cause more illness or discomfort than the cancer itself. Ask your doctor what side effects you should expect and how long they’re likely to last. Also, find out which side effects you need to report right away. You will need to know how to get in touch with your doctor after regular office hours if needed.
Some people find it hard to be hopeful when their treatment makes them feel bad and look different. People with cancer can become frustrated when they do everything right but it doesn’t help, or when treatment must be delayed because their body is unable to handle any more. Sometimes changes in your mood are caused by certain medicines, while other times they may be linked to the stress of coping with cancer and treatment. It’s normal to have ups and downs during cancer treatment.
Body changes from cancer treatment can range from hair loss to the loss of a limb. These kinds of changes can be hard to handle because others can see them. Many people who lose hair choose to wear scarves, wigs, or hats. Some people choose artificial limbs(prostheses) and reconstructive surgery after cancer surgery. Both short- and long-term solutions like these draw less attention to or help hide a person’s physical differences.
Sean, cancer survivor: “I had 2 surgeries; the first to remove the cancerous testicle and the second to remove lymph nodes in my abdomen. The lymph node surgery affected how I feel about my body and self-image more than the first surgery. I’m more self-conscious about the scars on my abdomen. I was given the option of reconstruction of the testicle after my first surgery but I wasn’t interested.”
When making difficult decisions, it often helps to talk with others who have had the same type of reconstructive surgery or wear the same type of prosthesis. Ask your surgeon if he or she is able to share photos that show actual results of reconstructive surgery.
Check with your health insurance company about coverage for reconstructive surgery or prostheses. If you do not have health insurance, your hospital social worker may be able to help you find other ways to pay for it. Insurance coverage can be limited either by dollar amount or the number of prostheses (for example, mastectomy bras and breast forms) you can purchase in a certain amount of time.