Cancer not only takes a toll on the body but on the mind as well. It is insidious and attacks the body in many ways that frequently result in the body changing and looking different. When the cancer has to be surgically removed it can lead to major bodily changes (for example, mastectomy) and scars. In addition, bodily changes can include things like hair loss, weight gain, weight loss, weakness, changes in sexual function, changes in skin, swelling and more. While some of these changes are temporary, others may be permanent and each changes needs to be dealt with differently so that positive body image can be maintained going forward.
While surviving cancer is a huge victory, it is not only common but perfectly understandable for survivors to feel frustrated, confused or embarrassed about body changes after cancer treatment. It is easy after going through a cancer experience to feel as though your body has betrayed you. All of these feelings are legitimate and should be acknowledged so that you can feel good about your body. Encouraging positive body image can begin with something simple like physical activity. You do not have to start out with running a marathon. Start slow. By just getting a consistent physical activity routine going you can feel encouraged by how your body is functioning and gaining strength. As you get stronger, consult a physician or personal trainer who can help you set achievable goals for yourself so that you can celebrate your body with each goal met. Another way to encourage positive body image is to treat yourself to beauty treatments or products that make you feel good about your body. Spa treatments, makeup application, a new hair style and more can be an instant boost to self confidence. While these things may sound superficial, it can often be the beginning of a mindset change about the way you feel about your body. In addition to things you can do specifically for your physical appearance and strength, it is important to treat all parts of the body and that includes the mind. Many patients and cancer survivors find talking to a support group or therapist to be immensely beneficial when it comes to body image. Cancer patients and survivors will quickly find that they are not the only ones that feel frustration and embarrassment about the changes in their physical body and appearance. A community of people with similar experiences or a trained therapist can help you begin to accept the changes in your body and encourage you as you go forward. Celebrate being a cancer survivor but do not feel ashamed to have conflicting feelings about your body and what you have gone through. Positive body image may take time but can be achieved by any cancer survivor.