The topic of self-image and cancer has been overthought and over-written and over-worked--but it persists. Part of the truth, I think, is that most of us would be glad to be apart from our physical selves through cancer treatment. Who wants to live intimately with pain and fatigue and nausea and hair loss? Who wants to look in the mirror and think: "WHO is that?" I always smile when I remember the woman who reported shrieking whenever she caught a glimpse of her bald head and eyebrow-less face: "I scare myself."
I sincerely doubt that there is anyone on the planet who thinks that his or her personal appearance has been improved by cancer. I have known women who liked a wig better than their own hair, and I have known one or two women who insisted that their reconstructed perky breasts were an improvement over the natural ones. They are a tiny minority.
Fortunately, most of us are far enough away from high school to be no longer obsessed with our looks. We have made peace with our noses or waistlines or eye lashes. We have learned to live pretty comfortably in our bodies, and then along comes cancer and rips those accommodations to shreds. The months and even the first few years after cancer may not be much better. Our bodies are different, and we have to, again, make peace with who we are. I found my curly hair very distressing--yes, it was better than bald, but it wasn't my hair. Except that, for a while, it was.
And the physical piece is, in many ways, the easier part. Cancer almost always changes some relationships and always edits some of our assumptions about ourselves. We may be proud of how we comported ourselves in difficult moments--or we may be somewhat less than proud. I remember, with real embarrassment, a few episodes of anger than had nothing to do with the moment and everything to do with the cancer that was terrifying me.
From Cancer Net comes this article--nothing very new here, but is always reassuring to have feelings normalized.
Self-Image and Cancer
Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 09/2015
Self-image is how a person views himself or herself. Because of the many physical and emotional changes after a cancer diagnosis, people may experience positive and negative changes to their self-image.
Both cancer and its treatment may change how you look. How you feel about your appearance is called body image.
Many people with cancer feel self-conscious about changes to their bodies. Some of the more common physical changes of cancer include:
Weight gain or weight loss
Rash, typically from drug therapies
Loss of an organ, limb, or breast
The need for an ostomy, which is a surgical opening that allows bodily waste to exit the body into a bag
Fatigue or loss of energy, which can cause you to give up activities you once enjoyed
Reconstructive surgery, prosthetic devices, and cosmetic solutions often help people cope with these types of physical changes. Talking with a friend or another person with cancer who has experienced similar changes may help you cope with changes to your body. Remember to share your concerns with a member of your health care team. And, ask for more information about ways to relieve these symptoms or the emotional discomfort from these changes to your body. Many of these changes will resolve or improve as time passes after treatment.