Body image is how we see or picture ourselves in our mind. Many factors impact our body image including what you believe/think about your body, how you feel about your body and how you feel in your body. Many external factors impact body image such as cultural ideals and images, memories and experiences. Many people struggle with negative body image and cancer patients can struggle even more.
A cancer diagnosis can immediately influence our body image. You might immediately feel your body has betrayed you. Cancer can also impact body image by altering the physical appearance of the body and how the body functions.
Surgical interventions necessary to treat cancer can result in missing body parts (both invisible and visible) or additions (such as ostomies). Treatments can result in scars, loss of hair, weight gain, or weight loss. Many people struggle with accepting their altered image of their body, often distancing themselves from their own body. Other treatments can result in the body feeling weak and sick. Hormonal changes with treatments also impact body image.
Be aware of:
• Feeling embarrassed or ashamed of your body
• Changes in intimacy with your partner
• Avoidance of social situations
• Hiding your body
• Increasing negative feelings about yourself
What you can do:
•Don’t avoid – while avoidance makes us feel better initially is makes the fear and negativity about your body worse
•Look at your body
•Make positive statements towards about yourself (or at least try to stop the negatives)
•Be your body. Don’t judge your body
•If you have a partner, begin exploring, adjusting and accepting body changes
•Remember what your body has been through and give it thanks
•Seek counseling if negative anxious feelings about yourself and your body do not improve
Body image is an important aspect of us that can be dramatically altered when living with cancer. With the many aspects of cancer treatment it can sometimes be forgotten. This can lead to anxiety, depression, isolation, and relationship issues. Pay attention to your body image and work to improve. You deserve it.