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Body Image and Everyday Life
Haemish
135 Posts
I’m not sure if this topic has been posted but I thought I would post because it’s how I’m feeling. I have come out the other end of colon cancer. Pardon the pun lol. I have been cancer free for seven months now and have managed living with a colostomy bag. I am however struggling with body image and self esteem. I have always been a big guy and struggled with weight. When I was diagnosed with colon cancer back in 2019 I had this crazy, dark thought that perhaps I was going to lose a lot of weight and that would be more new starting point. That didn’t happen. I kept my weight all through treatment and in fact I believe I gained weight afterwards. I am at the point where I want to tear down all the mirrors in my house because not only do I hate looking at the scars and the bag but also the fat blob I see before me. I do what I can to walk , to play golf and stay mobile. My body feels like that of an old man and I am only 51. I’m stiff all the time and I’m sure it’s age related but also know it’s because of being overweight for years. I talk to a social worker every couple of weeks but it doesn’t seem to help what I’m feeling. Has anyone else experienced this and if so what did you do about it? I’m also a single dad to an amazing 10 year old girl and I don’t want my negative body image thoughts to transfer to my daughter who is very body aware. I am also a PE teacher who is heading back to work next September after being off for a year and a half for treatment. I want to present a good image but struggling with how to do that.
37 Replies
Brighty
7483 Posts
Haemish‍ thank you for bringing up a topic that many people struggle with. After cancer treatments and surgery, people's body and energy levels change..bringing with it body image issues and sometimes low self esteem. It is very common and definitely something to bring up with your health care team. I'm hoping others will join in this post to talk about their own experiences and how they dealt with this issue.
Now, cut yourself some slack. You've been through the ringer and it takes time to get your body back in shape. You are doing all the right things by walking and playing golf. Keep it up!!!!! You might find it helpful to inquire at the hospital you were treated at to see if theres some type of support group for those who went through cancer treatment and struggle with body image. You can also call the cancer info line to see if they have any info on support groups. 1888 939 3333. I'm sure others will join in this thread. You aren't alone in this feeling.
Runner Girl
2135 Posts

@Haemish

Congratulations on getting this far! You did an amazing thing! Treatments really kick the crap out of you don't they.

I was doing pretty well managing all my side effects, etc. from my breast cancer treatment. Learning to live with half of my right breast missing and a terribly ugly scar. And then they did it to me - they switched me from Tamoxifen to Anastrozole, an aromatase inhibitor - wham I've gained weight!! I've always hovered around 100 lbs, now I'm around 110 and I feel awful. I know, many will say, it's not that much weight, but it's all relative, and to me it is! Plus the new AI is causing my feet to go numb when I'm on them for any length of time, so going for a run has become a bit more difficult when I cannot feel my feets!

I've found a pretty good solution to my IBS and eating vegies, so I'm now able to enjoy salads again and have been doing so regularly. The AI makes me crave sweets so now I'm giving in to goji berries, pineapple, grapes, etc. I'm going to make and try the cayenne pepper cream that was mentioned in another thread and see if it makes a difference to my feet so I can again run like the wind.

Keep up what you are doing, you will get there. It is slower progress once we pass 50, but it is not impossible. And keep in mind, you did a great thing, fighting this fight and coming out on the good end. As @Brighty mentioned, cut yourself a little slack, but not too much.

Runner Girl

Boby1511
596 Posts
Haemish
hi there
i too struggle with the bag I’ve been living with over a year now. I just tell myself with a recurrence in the rectum it would probably hurt to not have the bag! I have a prolapse now which is much grosser and has me worried. These things tend to get worse not better.
I too regained my weight after treatment. I was 114 in hospital and now 157! Although I do believe I carry it well. I can’t lift anything heavy or overly exercise with my ostomy problems. But I try. Been walking. A year of treatments has left me with much less energy. I try. I tell myself little extra weight will help if I do have surgery again! Lol. I don’t overly sweat the appearance. If people are uncomfortable with my looks that’s there problem. I jus try to be comfortable. Spent a year in discomfort nice to not feel so bad.
luv that you thinking of your daughters image attitude! Great dad.
sending you best wishes.
Boby1511
596 Posts
Runner Girl
110! ouch… how tall are you? Thinking you very thin! You like cookies? I can send you some.
😊
Haemish
135 Posts
BrightyBoby1511Runner Girl‍ Thanks for all of your input. I have struggled all my life with body image issues and cancer has only magnified it. Like I said. I am good with the bag but very conscious of it with what I wear. I tend to wear big and roomy shirts and never tuck them in anymore. It’s the weight more than anything that I am struggling with. I am 5’10”
and 275lbs. Hard to believe that back in 2008 I actually completely a full marathon. Lol. I know being 51 doesn’t help but it shouldn’t be an excuse.
Whitelilies
1475 Posts

@Haemish Hi Greg…..I too understand…..body image is difficult for so many of us…..things change….new things appear…..things droop…..things sag…..things shift…..(I hope someone is laughing now ! a bit!)

You truly HAVE been through the ringer! You are here ! Celebrate that! After treatment….the body and soul, need to heal…..it takes times….give yourself time…..walking is lovely, at your own pace…..there is no race….just you and your Nikes!

How touching, that you want to be a positive influence, for your daughter, as at her age….body image is a big factor……be a positive , loving dad…..that is it ! She will feel your kindness and efforts, in her own way. Your students will ALSO see that you are back; teaching; standing tall; and that is an achievement.

A+ to you Greg.

Regards

Whitelilies

Runner Girl
2135 Posts

@Boby1511 I am 5 feet 1 inch tall! 😁

Runner Girl

Essjay
1597 Posts

@Haemish do you have a dietician at your cancer centre? Someone who can advise you on a diet suitable for your condition with a bag? Sometimes being told what to eat helps.

I have found exercise to be my saving grace since passing 50 and surviving cancer. I lift weights and this has really helped me with weight management. I lost 10% body weight before my diagnosis as I decided I wanted to be ‘fit at fifty’, and post cancer I’m fitter and stronger than before, thanks to a program targeting my flexibility and strength needs from a personal trainer. Exercise really helped me overcome fatigue post-treatment. Have you looked into other forms of exercise than walking? Are your gyms open yet?

S2020
585 Posts
Haemish‍, you have been through a lot!

I wanted to direct you to an online Body Image seminar at Wellspring that may be helpful:

https://wellspring.ca/online-programs/programs/all-programs/body-image-awareness-seminar/

I see many helpful suggestions posted here, too, by other members. Wishing you the best!
Haemish
135 Posts
Essjay‍ and others. Thank you for the helpful suggestions. This will sound ridiculous since I am a PE teacher but I actually don’t care for lifting weights and working out. Lol. I tend to lean toward sports based things so that’s why I got back into playing golf after nine years off. I always walk the course and don’t take an electric cart.

I had a dietician when I was going through treatment who was helpful and told me what to eat and not eat. After treatment they were not helpful at all. Just told me what to avoid immediately after surgery but since then has just said “try different things. Everyone is different” Yes I would love someone to tell me exactly what to eat. I struggle because I live alone except for when my daughter is here. I do my best to model good eating habits when she is here but not so much when she is not. I think that since things are opening up more I need to reach out to people to walk with or bike with or whatever. Good for all of you who have figured it out and are happy with who you are. I’m not there yet but trying.

@Haemish

Deep breath...

<rant> I can't remember the last time I lost a post here. And it was long and heartfelt. Back to writing in a text editor until this autosave thing for replies gets worked out. </rant>

I feel your pain Haemish. Before I had cancer I would tell people that losing weight was the hardest thing I had ever done. (And I've done some hard things.) Carrying a bag of kitty litter into the house one day I realized what I had lost. From 220 to 180...

I had back problems, high blood pressure, and I knew I weighed more than was healthy for me.

Part are obviously on the right track. More activity and fewer calories. The equation is pretty simple. The reality was a lot more complicated. There were two major factors. I took a job that was a lot more active. Stair climbing and walking 10 to 15 km a day were normal. And the second factor was I started tracking my food. Apps make it super simple and as long as you are honest pretty helpful. Food tracking made all the little changes that I needed to make in diet easier. I'm a believer in variety and moderation so no fad diet for me. Portion size, more fruits and vegetables, and less fried food were all parts of the puzzle.

Finding an accountability partner is important. I had two men that held me accountable. (One was a PE teacher!) Now that I'm not working I still walk and have taken up running. I had a stretching habit that I'm trying to turn into an off run day strength habit but that's not easy.

Two suggestions. @Lacey_Moderator posted a link to a program in Calgary that is recruiting. https://cancerconnection.ca/discussions/viewtopic/80/68531 I contacted them and they are connecting me to folks in UBC. Secondly @Brock C and I have had a dialogue about the mental challenge of getting back to exercise which I can't find but I did find another recent conversation with @Brad7020 who might have some thoughts on how to motivate yourself.

Angus

Brock C
83 Posts

Hi @Haemish -

I hear you loud and clear: In 2018 I was an 57-year-old gym rat who could have stood to lose a few pounds when I was diagnosed with Stage 3 anal canal cancer. I thought that if there was to be an Up side to my cancer treatments, it would be that I would lose weight. But like you, no go. After 6 weeks of chemo and radiation, I dropped not a single pound.

Thankfully my treatments were successful and we didn’t have to resort to a colostomy bag. I’m in remission now. The physical side effects, however, are ongoing: I tire easily and I don’t have the motivation or the energy to work out at the gym like I once did. I don’t like what I see in the mirror either.

But the image I want to present to family, friends, colleagues and the rest of the world is that of a cancer survivor. Nothing else really matters. People admire and respect me for it, regardless of my belly and my weak limbs.

After two full years in a post-cancer fog (depression, anxiety, low self-esteem), I gave up struggling to be the man I used to be and chose to accept who I am now, limitations and all. I simply made the decision to do what I can to the best of my ability (including being active at the gym). It’s all about how I feel about myself, not how others see me. Full stop.

Simplistic and Pollyanna-ish? Maybe. But I feel better about myself now and things are only getting better.

Going forward, I wish you only good things. Your daughter is lucky to have a dad like you!

Cheers from Montreal.

Haemish
135 Posts
WestCoastSailorBrock C‍ Thanks so much for your input and suggestions. I am hoping that once I return to my job as a PE teacher and head of athletics (which involves being on my feet all day) that I will increase my activity. I tried using the carb manager app for a while and I was pretty religious about using it but once I used it for a few weeks and saw no results I stopped using it. I know others don’t care how I look but the problem is I care too much and need to get past it somehow. Being a single guy with all married friends it’s hard to find someone to be accountable to besides myself. I allow myself to eat poorly and then beat myself up afterward. Some days I have the energy and motivation to be very active. Other days are spent watching way too much tv and also eating. I applaud all of those who have figured things out and accepted who they are and have great wellness routines. Hopefully I can get there before it’s too late and “the beast” returns.
Coffeelover
21 Posts
WestCoastSailor
Are we related !? Lol
I too was working out 6 days a week , fit and felt great , bad hip to start my lack of motivation due to pain then chemo exhaustion , side effects stopped my love of fitness , then gained weight, still single and got into a nasty cycle .

I have realized this is just a chapter in my life that will be over and can get back to fitness , feeling good and too my true self and can’t do anything bout the past 8 months now .

I think we all need to be kind to ourselves as we tell others to be . This too shall be over and though the getting back on track is gonna suck , after cancer we can do anything !!

just my 2 cents worth

shannon
Brock C
83 Posts

Exactly. After cancer we can do anything !!

Haemish
135 Posts
So to add to my already crippling poor body image I found out today that I in fact have lip cancer. For this I will yet again enter the CT scan to determine the extent to which I have it and then be booked for surgery. Another scar to add to the large abdominal scar , the large scar along my butt and the two large scars I have on my left arm (surgery for broken arm when I was 16). I feel broken and disgusting and hate how this will add to this feeling
Whitelilies
1475 Posts

@Haemish Hello Greg…….you are NOT disgusting…..you are a person who has had surgery(s)….you are a person who has had treatment…..you are a person! I am sorry to hear that “C” has reared its' ugly head, again….

Please ask the ENT Dr, if the surgery will have the incision made “internally/in mouth, lip area?” Perhaps there will be NO outside/visual scar ! You do not know yet.

We are all here for you……we are supporting you……

Warmly

Whitelilies

Cynthia Mac
3336 Posts
Haemish‍ I read your other post this morning, too, and I’m sorry to hear you still struggling with your body image, and now have another surgery pending.

I have a conference starting shortly, but this is more important. YOU are more important.

You are more than the body your soul inhabits. As far as I’m concerned, too much emphasis is placed on body image by society in general.

Years ago, when I was struggling with my own image, I began reading the world of Louise L. Hay. Her words made such a difference in the way I looked at myself, whether it was my self esteem, my body image, or my emotional state. I still listen to her affirmations when I find myself feeling down.

Some days, it can be hard to believe the words, “In the Universe where I am, all is perfect, whole and complete,” or even “I am safe,” let alone “I love and approve of myself.” But, I have found that when we allow those words into our mind (along with others), and use them to replace the words we ARE telling ourselves on that “negative self-talk loop,” it can make such a difference in our day.

Please PM me, and I’ll look up some resources for you.
Runner Girl
2135 Posts

@Haemish

I'm sorry you have another cancer showing up. Hopefully it is localized and can be treated/removed without too much trouble.

I wanted to throw out a few quotes about scars for you to consider:

My scars tell a story. They are a reminder of times when life tried to break me, but failed. They are markings of where the structure of my character was welded.

The scar meant that I was stronger than what had tried to hurt me.

Don't ever be ashamed of the scars life has left you with. A scar means the hurt is over and the wound is closed. It means you conquered the pain, learned a lesson, grew stronger, and moved forward. A scar is the tattoo of a triumph to be proud of. Don't allow your scars to hold you hostage. Don't allow them to make you live your life in fear. You can't make the scars in your life disappear, but you can change the way you see them. You can start seeing your scars as a sign of strength and not pain.

I have several scars on my body. Some were just normal life, some inflicted by my abuser, but the worst is my lumpectomy scar from my breast cancer. It is a gnarly, lumpy mess. I have a bunch of these quotes saved that I refer to when I'm feeling badly about myself. There is nothing I can do about them but learn to accept them as my battle wounds in my fight for my life.

Runner Girl

Haemish
135 Posts
Runner Girl‍ Thanks for the quotes and yes I have seen these before and liked them. I understand I need to get to the point you are and I’m sure I will. I know there are people like you out there who have gone through worse things than I have. I just have to get past this selfish pity party I am having for myself and get on with things. I talked to my neighbour down the street and told him my news today. He has also been through multiple cancers and has multiple scars to prove it. I guess it’s accepting that there are lots of others out there living their lives and I have to do the same.
Whitelilies
1475 Posts

@Haemish Hello…….Greg, please know and feel, that we are all here to support you…..

Now; it is time to chuckle…….

I had a dental appointment last week, (I postponed going to his office, due to covid/fear)….so I was really happy to finally get to my dentist…..40 years he is my dentist…he better not retire !!…..I get in the dental chair, and we exchange pleasantries….and then….

All of a sudden…..I LIFT MY TSHIRT UP A BIT !!!

I was an “eager beaver” to SHOW OFF MY SCARS !!

You bet……he was a tad shocked; but what the heck….I told him of my journey and then SHOWED him everything…..

SO: moral of my chuckle; every scar has a story; even in the Dental Chair.

Regards

Whitelilies

ps no cavities

Haemish
135 Posts
Whitelilies‍ Thanks for the chuckle. Funny you mention the dentist. I saw my hygienist this morning and she got the see my gross lip. Lol. Also, I got the call for my CT scan which is next Thursday.
Haemish
135 Posts
Here’s an update for you. My family doctor called today to let me know that my CT scan didn’t show any cancer anywhere other than my lip so that’s good news. I have my appointment in London on Friday and they will let me know the course of treatment.
Brighty
7483 Posts
That is good news Haemish‍ !!! Best of luck friday and update us whenever you are able to!!!
Haemish
135 Posts
BrightyWhitelilies‍ My appointment on Friday went well. Definitely a different approach in London. Four people came into the room to look over my lip lesion. The radiation doctor decided she wouldn’t be needed and left which was a relief. The surgeon said he would be able to cut it out and stitch it up and that it would only be a half hour surgery. I am booked for august 16th and should hopefully be healed up in time to start the school year.
Whitelilies
1475 Posts

@Haemish Hi….this is good to hear…..Aug 16th is very soon….and for sure, it WILL heal, by the start of the new/fresh, school year.

New Beginnings!

Regards

Whitelilies

Cynthia Mac
3336 Posts
Haemish‍ , thanks for sharing your news. It’s really good to hear you sounding so positive! I hope everything else is going well for you.
Nudge
10 Posts

Hello @Haemish

I am 55 years old, currently recovering from my third surgery to the right side of my face.

I was blessed with a disfiguring tumour mass in front of my right cheek bone. The doctors believe it was there from birth and grew very slowly until I was 18, then it started getting much larger and more noticeable.

I’m not an overly vain person, but suddenly I would have random strangers stare at me. Some folks have no filter and would openly say in public, ’what’s wrong with your face’, or ‘did you bang your head?’, or ‘you should go see a dentist I think you probably have an abscess’. Needless to say my self confidence started to dwindle. So around this time I started growing my hair extremely long, which attracted cat calls, and shouted comments about being a long-haired freak. At least they weren’t talking about my face, which I couldn’t do anything about.

When the tumour became so large that it was pressing on facial nerves resulting in sickening migraine, my concern about the unsolicited and unfiltered flybys bothered me less. I needed to get help.

In 2018 I had surgery to remove the tumour. I called this surgery a success, because my migraine horrors ended immediately. I still have not had a migraine since. However, my fear of unwanted attention was given a huge boost when I saw the massive scar and divet that replaced the tumour.

So with my new look number two this happened. While eating lunch in a full company cafeteria, a coworker said loudly across the table to me, “My father got hit in the face with an axe”, the table was instantly silenced. Now with a spotlight on me, he pointed and continued, ‘your scar, my father got a scar like that when he was hit in the face with an axe’. I wanted to hide under the table or teleport myself out of the lunch room.

In that same year, a new more aggressive tumour grew back in the same area, resulting in more surgery, which made the scar even larger and more ugly. One year later while out with my wife at a grocery store, a complete stranger blurts out, ‘I love your scar! I find them fascinating. I always wonder what the person’s story would be’.

So now we arrive at Feb 2021. My cancer is back again in the same area. Arrangements were made for a Jul 26 surgery. This time, it was a deep resection and facial reconstruction surgery to save my life. I came home from the hospital yesterday with facial look #4, the most hideous yet. The bonus is that I now also have a 18” long scar on my right side where they harvested my donor tissue, it looks like a shark bite.

My wife and I discussed my appearance prior to the surgery, but basically the one person‘s opinion that I care about most, does not care what I look like, and that’s alright with me.

I can’t live with the fear of hurt feelings, nor can I control unfiltered strangers. My lovely wife sees the real me.

I hope you will also find your own peace with the ones you love.

Whitelilies
1475 Posts

@Nudge Beauty, Lies, Within…..

You Are Beautiful. And so if your wife.

Regards

Whitelilies

Brighty
7483 Posts

@Haemish Thank you for updating us! That is such wonderful news! I'll be thinking of you on the 16th. Let us know how it goes when you get the chance! I will also be looking forward to hearing stories of how your school year is going! Can't remember if I mentioned I'm an EA for mostly high school kids so we can chat a lot about school stuff if you want!!!!

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