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Let's discuss cancer and body image

Let's discuss cancer and body image

Posted by Nicole_admin on Jan 28, 2015 1:23 pm

When cancer and treatment change the way you look, your self-esteem, sex drive and sex life can really suffer. You may find that you focus a lot on the physical changes caused by cancer. Even if you look much the same on the outside during or after your cancer experience, you may feel different about yourself and your body image.

Changes to your body may be temporary or permanent, let’s discuss how cancer has impacted your body image


Re: Let's discuss cancer and body image

Posted by Kerbear on Jan 28, 2015 3:06 pm

speaking for myself, someone who already had low self esteem regarding my body image (weight has always been an issue for me) breast cancer has definitely not helped the situation! I have gained more weight, have a deformed breast from surgery, lost my hair, including eyebrows and most of my lashes..and a skin infection that i picked up during treatment has left a permanent scar on the side of my face.
i look in the mirror and hate what i see, when i am dressing up to go out, i feel like i am wearing a costume, with my wig, drawn on brows,, as much as i am thankful for those things, i just dont feel like me.
On the upside, i have an amazingly supportive husband, who is always trying to boost me up on the days i feel really down on myself.
recently i have been shifting my focus from the negative to how I can use this time I have to get better from the inside. Reading lots of health and nutrition books, some i obtained from the hospital library, adding exercise to my days, eating better..i am not working right now, and always complained that i never had time to eat healthy, no excuses now! I have the time off work, and have decided to use it to improve my way of thinking and eating. I feel that this will help me shift my thoughts, and if i feel better inside, then the other stuff will fall into place. It has been 2 weeks, and i must say i do have more energy. I still feel odd going out, but my hair is slowly coming in, and i am trying to look at it as a "rebirth"
i have my down days still, but only i can change how i feel about myself, and im tired of not liking what i see, so every little thing i can do to make me feel better is helping. Go out an buy a new outfit, try some different makeup, have long baths, pamper yourself any way you can! As far as the sex life, that is a work in progress, and thankfully my husband is very patient! 

Re: Let's discuss cancer and body image

Posted by journeys on Jan 28, 2015 5:08 pm

Hi Kerbear. I feel for you and understand where you're coming from. I think you are really approaching this in a wonderful way! You're doing all the right things. I am 3 years past diagnosis now but sometimes it seems like yesterday when my hair was falling out (my eyebrows only at the end of chemo!) As for the hair, you'll snap your fingers & it will have grown back, time goes so fast. Distractions and keeping busy are a good way to keep your mind off of it.

As for not being happy with your breasts, yes I totally get that! As many women who've been through this do. You may consider reconstruction (I don't know your exact situation). My breasts are a work in progress! I'm having my third surgery on them in May. I don't like the way they look at all, & that's going on 3 years now. I  don't even know how much of an improvement there will be after surgery  #3. (Third time's the charm?) 

However, and this is going to sound cliche, but the more time passes,the more I get used to this and the less I focus on it.  I think you will too! Of course you have every right to b**** about it until you get there. As we all do! I hope this in some way brings a little comfort! Hang in there!!

Re: Let's discuss cancer and body image

Posted by Shenpa on Jan 29, 2015 7:55 am

No hair, no eyebrows, no eyelashes, no problem, they will grow back. I have a great wig I never wear because often my bare head or my buff is the most comfortable and I am comfortable in my bare head.  There are more and more bare heads in the chemo waiting area and many of them are women, why not wear it proud.? We know the battle we are each fighting intimatley and the loss of hair is part of it. Hiding it seems like denying it to me now.
I will have a double mastecotmy in February. At first a resconstruction (boob job and a tummy tuck) sounded like a wonderful option, but it is a 6 hour surgery and my body will have already been through so very much.  Then I found out I will not qualify for reconstruction for at least a year and a half because I have inflammatory breast cancer and the skin is involved.  I had a poor experience shopping for prosthetics (planner that I am I went well in advance of needing them to see what is ahead).  The more thought I gave to it the more I realized the only reason I want to pretend I have the same body shape is for returning to work, so I don't appear "too different" so I can put this behind me.  At this point I am thinking I will go without anything to "replace" by breasts, no breasts will be my new reality afterall and I believe I can do it and be proud of making it through.  The thought process to getting here has been long. I will miss my curvy body but my breasts did their intended job of feeding two babies and the cancer has turned them into a threat to my life.  I have given much thought to the change in shape after the surgery and I feel ready.  Acceptance has been a strong theme in this cancer journey, I continue to try to do it with grace because sometimes the only control we have is how we respond.

Re: Let's discuss cancer and body image

Posted by Nicole_admin on Jan 29, 2015 10:03 am

Hi Kerbear, I really like the way you're seeing your hair as rebirth, it sounds so on point! The physical and emotional changes can sometimes be hard to deny, it sounds like you have a really positive attitude though. I think that as you mentioned, patience is key.

Findjanet, deciding on reconstruction is a very personal choice and I think it's so positive that you're considering different options. I think the best choice is an informed one that's best for you. When is your surgery date in February? 

Journeys, how do you manage to stay patient and positive while waiting between surgeries? 

Re: Let's discuss cancer and body image

Posted by northernguy on Jan 29, 2015 5:45 pm

I have a few scars on my neck but no one can tell I am sick at all.  I am always tired and sore but yes I feel like my scars stick out yet very few people see them.  I see people with no hair and or throat surgery with missing areas and my heart goes out to them knowing people stare.  I think of how much they are going through and hope they are getting better.

Re: Let's discuss cancer and body image

Posted by wildfire on Jan 30, 2015 8:57 pm

Its fine to lose your hair, eyebrows etc but I go in for surgery in April and am not happy about it.  Im getting all this chemo drano but despite the inflammatory breast cancer shrinking it hasnt lessened or changed the outcome.  Ive lived with "the girls' for less than 50 years, Im just so sad.  I like my curves too and I told my sister I dont want to see what I will look like after surgery and how do you talk to a male surgeon about what any of this means. I too have to wait a year and a half to look normal again.   Im just being honest, and just tired of this journey.

Re: Let's discuss cancer and body image

Posted by Shenpa on Jan 31, 2015 6:30 am

Hi Wildfire, if you have not done so already consider contacting staff at Willow, www.willow.org to discuss your feelings about your surgery, all staff at Willow have been touched by breast cancer in some way and you can call anytime for as much support as you need to help you through.  I went through a period of mourning the loss of my breasts and as prepared as I feel I will likely still have my moments but I feel better after sharing with close friends and family and with women who have been through it. Best regards

Re: Let's discuss cancer and body image

Posted by journeys on Jan 31, 2015 6:04 pm

I think it's not so much I stay positive between surgeries, I just don't focus on it. It's put at the back of my head and for me, I try not to think about it too much & live in the moment. Now that I've  been through them a couple of times, it helps that I more or less know what to expect, I sort of know what the pain's going to be like and I know that it's going to end too! I'll be nervous the week of, and especially the day of, but I've made the decision & I'm going to go through with it. However if I don't see huge improvements after this one, I'll be honest. I'm going to be really discouraged. Even my surgeon admits, this is interesting for her, being the surgeon & getting to do all this, but I'm the one that has to go through all the hard parts!

Re: Let's discuss cancer and body image

Posted by Pygmalion on Jan 31, 2015 11:30 pm

I have been struggling for the past few years to lose weight and live a healthier lifestyle. I had started going for regular exercise (walking dogs, going to gym) and being more disciplined about what I was fueling my body with. Then came the diagnosis. I had been feeling "not quite myself" for months and some of my new changes were beginning to fall by the wayside. Then came the dexamethasone! I haven't dared been on a scale, I m heavier than I ve ever been, uncomfortable, can't bare to look in the mirror. I catch a glimpse of someone I don't recognize, puffy faced, hair patchy, disgusting. Everyone keeps saying how great I look. Like they'd never know I was going through radiation. I definitely don't feel like myself, I don't look like myself and feel guilty for worrying about it.

Re: Let's discuss cancer and body image

Posted by joey on Feb 9, 2015 1:04 pm

I feel for all of you going through breast cancer surgery. My sister has had both breasts removed ten years ago. She then went through colon cancer surgery. She is my inspiration. She has not had reconstuctiion and is not planning on it. She has been so brave throughout her journey through the surgeries and chemo and radiation. She always jokes about not having any cleavage anymore. I guess that is how she has gotten through it, the joking and trying not to let the disease take away who she is. I am now going to have my own journey with surgery but it is a hysterectomy and therefore not as disfiguring as breast removal. I hope that as time goes on that you can come to terms with your loss of your breasts. I guess that our image, in our minds, about ourselves is an important one and cancer forces us to adjust it. It is still you just a little different. My sister is still the person that I grew up with just a lttle modified. She still has her sense of humor and has the same personality. She has had a difficult time but has come out the other side with a new perspective on life and living. Now that I have cancer too, I can use her as an example to emulate. I am lucky, I have her to look to. She had me but without the experience to fall back on. Good luck in your journies and God speed.

Re: Let's discuss cancer and body image

Posted by Shenpa on Mar 12, 2015 9:56 am

Just wanted to share some good news. I visited my surgeon yesterday, three weeks after my bilateral mastectomy and she gave me the results of my pathology. The tumors in both breasts responded well to chemotherapy and the pathology report was the best it could be under the circumstances.  There is no sign of invasive cancer in the lymph glands and she was able to get clear margins.  With my original diagnosis I had a 10% chance  of getting these excellent results and so there was celebration in my household that extended to sharing the news with friends and family. I am mending from chemotherapy and the surgery but this feels like a victory in this marathon.

Re: Let's discuss cancer and body image

Posted by goldensrfun on Mar 12, 2015 10:08 am

Congratulations! What wonderful news! Another good thing about this site is the ability to share others victories.....I think it makes us all feel happy.  

Re: Let's discuss cancer and body image

Posted by Mim on Apr 4, 2015 12:01 am

Find janet, did you find the website www.breast free.org?  It's a site that supports no reconstruction.  
The bad is always there but the good is right beside it......if you look. Mim

Re: Let's discuss cancer and body image

Posted by Shenpa on Apr 4, 2015 8:43 am

Hi Mim,  I did find the breast free website, thanks. It is now six weeks since my bi-lateral mastectomy and I am healing well. I now have the trunk of a small child, my ribs protrude beyond the chest area. This was not something I had expected, a sort of cave in for the chest area is a dramatic difference for me. I am about to start 5 weeks of radiaiton so I will continue to go without anything for a few months to come while the area continues to heal. This new shape does have me rethinking my options, but there is plenty of time to decide before I will return to work.
All the best to one and all. Janet

Re: Let's discuss cancer and body image

Posted by Lara456 on Apr 4, 2015 3:16 pm

A year before my diagnosis with Myeloprolific Neoplasm/CML (rare form of blood cancer affecting white cells) I had so much fatigue I didn't even feel like cooking so grabbed anything to eat,  and no longer felt like exercising so I gained weight. In the six months prior to the diagnosis I lost 40 pounds from a combination pf hypermotabolism (metabolism up) and mild nauseae reducing my appetite (less food). I've been prescribed oral chemotherapy (Hydroxyurea) and more than likely will have to stay on that or another drug (TKI)  long term such as 5-10 years or for the rest of my life. I have long, dark, thick hair to my waist and I am so upset of the prosepct of hair loss, that it will never look the same as it does now, that I won't get back it becasue the chemo is long term. The drugs most often cause weight gain and fatigue as well. It's so frustrating that this illness that knocked me for an emotional loop when I was diagnosed will now dictate how I live, how long I live and even what I look like! Muggles have no sympathy and say, "if it was me, the last thing I would be concerned about is my hair", but in my CML group, everyone is upset and mourning as well--and feeling we have to apologize for having the reactions we have.

Re: Let's discuss cancer and body image

Posted by FrannyVolunteer on Apr 5, 2015 10:14 am

Hi Lara456, Happy Easter, Yes I its not that happy right now, but you will have your life last a little longer. Yes, you are right that to loose your hair is a terrible side effect but remember every one is different and not all loose there hair. In my treatment they said that I would but I did not it just got a little thinner but I still had most of it..  With your beautiful long hair, have you thought about cutting it off and having a hair piece made with your own hair? there are some hair technicians who do it. It may be the answer to your problem and it would look good on you. At the very least you would have your hair to keep. Some people who start loosing there hair have it shaved because to loose it slowly is very hard to watch with it coming out in clumps and not comfortable. Sorry to not give you more hope than that, but with chemo you never no for sure. We are all different so even the Dr's are not completly sure..
Chin-up many people live with incurable cancer and find that once they get used to the treatment they live fairly well and enjoy life. Mine is not curable but I'm still hear 15 years latter. "I love life"...

Re: Let's discuss cancer and body image

Posted by Steam on Sep 7, 2015 5:29 pm

Sometimes you're fine with your body and the changes you've been through until a stranger's eyes linger on you. Then you're suddenly reminded that your bald head, missing limb or scars are not standard appearance.

I've not had a breast removed but I read that one of the after-effects is that swimming with a top or tshirt on is very uncomfortable, to the point of soreness.

If you're comfortable with your body and it's others who make you feel uncomfortable, I'd like to recommend an "All Bodies Swim" event at a civic pool. Vancouver and Edmonton host them monthly - perhaps other cities do as well. Grab your favourite internet search engine or call your local LGBTQ+ group (they are usually the organization that instigates this event.)

The idea is that people are welcome to swim in any attire, or lack thereof, that they wish as long as their genital region is covered. This makes for a welcoming environment for anyone who wants some physical activity regardless of tattooing, scarring, extensive body hair, excessive body weight, piercings, amputation, gender transitioning, etc. It allows you to focus on the fun of being in a swimming pool with a number of people who look a little different (just like you), rather than being distracted by strangers who haven't yet learned how to behave when they see someone with an unusual body.

Re: Let's discuss cancer and body image

Posted by maberlor on Dec 5, 2015 9:41 pm

Another development for me today.  I have been loosing my hair a lot so today i went for a hair cut.  That is when i found out I have very large bald patches and it is all over my head.  it is hirrific, I have not started chemo nor radiation yet. 
My hairdresser suggested that I go see her friend who owns a wig shop.  She showed me really nice head dresses and showed me how to put them on.  She helped me choose two very nice peices that look pretty good on me.  I proudly showed my new find to some friends.  Well what i got was insults, mockery and laughing at me because I was "jumping the gun and giving in tothe cancer.  To wear this before chemo is being an idiot.  I tried to show them what is hapenning with my haif but they would not even  look at my head.  I guess it is time to choose better friends.  I was so hurt, I was thinking i would get encouragement, instead i got ridicule. 
I can't even begin how hurt I am, my husband can not be bothered with such unimportant things, hair loss is nothing to hm..."It's only hair" he says. 
I understand that he is fighting his own demon, he has cancer too.  Had surgery to remove his prostate but the cancer had spread outside of it and settled in his basin.  He is sometimes in pain butthe cancer is not growing, not moving...kind of dormant.
so i can not get help from him because he says he has enough on his plate, does not need any of mine.
Loosing my hair may not mean much for some but for me, it is devastating. 
Am I just a fool or is there any ladies out there who feel the same??

Re: Let's discuss cancer and body image

Posted by Addie on Dec 6, 2015 10:50 am

hello Maberlor- Absolutey. Losing my hair was devastating for me as well. Now I am looking at losing it for the third time.. It does grow back however just not the same. As a woman , it is important , it has a lot to do with your indentity. your style. All I can say is please yourself as much as possible. Choose stylish scarves and hats and get at least one good  comfortable wig. And don't hang out with people that won't support you in this.

Re: Let's discuss cancer and body image

Posted by maberlor on Dec 6, 2015 3:44 pm

Addie, thanks so much for the encouragement.  I always thought i had friends who would suport me in anything.  I am heart broken but I am not staying there.  I am moving on to new friends who understand and suport me.  even tho, I feel so alone.
I guess that may be normal to feel that way for a bit. 
I am happy I was directed to this site.  I read all the posts.

Re: Let's discuss cancer and body image

Posted by michelle4444 on Dec 6, 2015 6:37 pm

Loosing my hair was the only really difficulty I had. I actually shaved my head before it fell out as I couldn't handle it falling out. I have heard from many women how devastating it is. Our hair is part of our identity. I wore a wig the entire time, even at home. I didn't realize how important my hair was until I had to shave it off. It does grow back eventually.

Re: Let's discuss cancer and body image

Posted by Strawberry on Dec 7, 2015 1:25 pm

Ya, my scars from the surgery are bad and even though they saved my nipples they moved them and they look white with one permanently sticking out and the other inverted.  After 2 months my left over breasts are still sore and I get a lot of shooting pains.  I feel guilty complaining though because I could have lost both of them so I guess what I have I will learn to appreciate.  As far as friends go, very disappointed.  I feel my world is getting smaller all the time.  But what comes around goes around and they better now dump on me when they need help.  Not all but I feel angry at my best friend's lack of help and I am not sure our friendship can survive this as I saw her and feel different when I am with her now.   Another result of this awful disease is relationships - I read about this but am surprised how it is so true.  Anyway, have a good day and just get on with living as best you can today.

Re: Let's discuss cancer and body image

Posted by Addie on Dec 8, 2015 8:45 am

Ho Strawberry. I'm sorry to hear about your troubles.I don't know about your relationship with your friend, but I do know that often friends etc really don't know how to deal with you right know.Some will avoid you thinking you need the rest or want to be alone. They don't know what to say to you or what to do to help. 
Keep a line of communication open and answer any questions they might have as openly and calmly as possible. And if you need help don't be afraid to ask. If they do not want to help, then you know where you stand. Often I fnd that they really want to but just don't know how and are delighted if given direction . 

Re: Let's discuss cancer and body image

Posted by Henpen on Dec 9, 2015 4:23 am

..........sometimes the only control we have is how we respond.

wow. I think I need this nugget as a needle pointed sampler!!!!