If you are feeling strong emotions like anger or sadness because of your own experience with body image and cancer, you are not alone.
Body image describes how a person perceives their physical self. For most people, body image changes gradually over time in response to physical changes often connected with aging.
But for a woman diagnosed with breast cancer, shifts in body image can be sudden, drastic and emotional. This is especially evident during and after treatment for breast cancer.
Women often tell me that their providers addressed the physical changes treatment could cause, but considering this issue on top of the stress of a new diagnosis proved difficult.
Chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, surgery, and radiation therapy - standard treatments for most breast cancers - carry side-effects that can cause visible changes to the body. Scarring, lymphedema, fluctuating weight, hair loss, breast removal and skin changes are among the most common. Early menopause – which can bring on hot flashes and fatigue – can lead to a less physically active life.
These side-effects are more than physical: they also impact emotional well-being which can lead to a loss of confidence and control.
It's important to remember that these feelings are valid and that not uncommon. Many, many women (and men) experience them.
So, what can you do about it? A few months ago, Anne Katz, RN, PhD, nurse specialist and sexuality counselor at Cancercare Manitoba, offered readers of our quarterly newsletter, Insight, a few simple ways to start:
Give yourself time to grieve the loss of your breasts, hair, or physical ability.
Jean Sachs is the CEO of Living Beyond Breast Cancer. LBBC.ORG. has programs and services designed specifically to help women cope with body image following a breast cancer diagnosis. If you or someone you love currently struggles with these issues, please consider attending our upcoming Breast Cancer 360: Body Acceptance after Diagnosis, on July 14.