Self esteem after cancer therapy

Here is a great write-up for post-cancer body image from Dana Farber.

After cancer treatment is over, and you are declared cancer free, your loved ones are celebrating that you are cured and the treatments worked.


Many patients undergo surgery for cancer. Scars, mastectomy, missing limbs, and other changes can alter self-image. Even after reconstruction, i.e. plastic surgery, self-image may still be affected. A patient mentioned this to me the other day, so, here are some tips from one of the leading cancer networks in America.


Dealing with body changes

Some body changes are short-term, and others will last forever. Either way, how you look may be a big concern after cancer treatment. People with ostomies after colon or rectal surgery are sometimes afraid to go out. They may feel shame or fear that others will reject them. They may be afraid they will have an “accident” and feel embarrassed. Others do not like people being able to see treatment effects like scars on the head or neck, skin color changes, loss of breasts or limbs, weight gain or loss, and hair loss. Even if your treatment does not “show,” your body changes may trouble you. Feelings of anger and grief are natural. You have lost your “old body” and, with it, your sense of self.

Feeling bad about your body can also lower your sex drive, and the loss of or reduction in your sex life can make you feel even worse about yourself. “Mentally, it was strange,” one prostate cancer survivor said. “You’re worried about your ‘man thing.’ It may be on the back of your mind … but it is always there.” Women also have this concern. “I felt like I was half of a woman,” one ovarian cancer survivor noted.

Changes in the way you look can also be hard for your loved ones—and this can be hard on you. Parents and grandparents often worry about how they look to a child or grandchild. They fear the changes in their body will scare the child or get in the way of their staying close.

Tips: Coping with body changes

How do you cope with body changes? Here are some ideas that have helped others:

  • If you find that your skin has changed color from radiation, ask your doctor or nurse about ways you can care for your skin and if the color will change over time.
  • Find new ways to enhance your appearance. A new haircut, hair color, makeup, or clothing may give you a lift.
  • If you choose to wear a breast form (prosthesis), make sure it fits you well. Your health insurance plan may pay for it.
  • Tell yourself that you are more than your cancer. Know that you have worth no matter how you look or what happens to
  • Mourn your losses. They are real, and you have a right to
  • Focus on the ways that coping with cancer has made you in life. Stronger, wiser, and more realistic.

Check out the rest of the information in this article:

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