Your Self-Image During and After Cancer

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Your self-image is an important view of yourself that drives your self-confidence, thoughts and behaviors. After cancer diagnosis and during cancer treatment you experience many physical and emotional changes. These changes affect your self-image, temporarily or permanently.

Physical Changes of Cancer Driving Your Self-Image

Cancer and associated treatments change your looks. Many people going through cancer diagnosis and treatment feel self-conscious or even embarrassed about their physical changes, including:

  • Hair loss
  • Weight gain
  • Weight loss
  • Surgical scars
  • Rashes from medications
  • Loss of body parts, such as limbs, organs or breasts
  • Ostomy needs
  • Fatigue and giving up on past activities due to low energy

There are medical options for restoring your self-image after cancer, if these fit your type of cancer. Some of these options include reconstructive surgery, prostheses and cosmetic solutions. Support groups, cancer networks, treatment professionals, psychologists and even close friends can help you cope with your physical changes. Always ask your treatment team for help when you need it, including information about ways to help you relieve your symptoms or emotional struggles with your body changes. Remember that many of these changes improve or resolve over time after your cancer treatment is done.

Emotional Changes of Cancer

Just as cancer changes your body, it also changes your emotions. In fact many areas of your life change, including your relationships, work and personal interests. Sometimes it takes time to deal with these changes on top of concern for the future and your survivability. Emotions commonly experienced after cancer diagnosis and during treatment include:

  • Sadness
  • Loneliness
  • Isolation
  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Frustration
  • Guilt
  • Lack of control
  • Hopelessness
  • Helplessness
  • Confusion

The good news is that people going through cancer diagnosis and treatment often experience very positive changes, including:

  • Newfound appreciation for their body’s resilience, strength and beauty
  • Peace
  • Gratitude
  • Stronger relationships
  • Greater appreciation for life and special moments
  • Changed priorities
  • Clarity about the meaning of life
  • Clearer personal goals

Coping with the Changes in Your Self-Image after Cancer

After cancer you may feel temporarily lost in how you view yourself and your body. Below are some tips for adjusting after cancer affects your self-image:

  • Allow yourself time to heal your spirit and adjust
  • Treat yourself with kindness and compassion
  • Talk to others who have experienced your situation, such as in support groups
  • Build a positive network of family and friends
  • Ask for whatever help you need, then accept that help
  • Embrace humor, laugh frequently and stay calm
  • Talk to your treatment team about your concerns
  • Find ways to take control over your treatment and process, so you feel more confident
  • Remain as active as possible for greater energy and self-confidence
  • Remain as social as possible so you have things to focus on besides your cancer
  • Seek counseling when you need that support and for help dealing with your physical changes

Remember to keep an open line of communication with your treatment team regarding side effects and emotional well-being. How you feel about yourself plays a significant role in your cancer recovery and return to a healthy, happy life. When you realize you need help, support or guidance during and after cancer treatment, talk to your doctor for that help.