It is probably safe to say that on one's body image was ever improved by having breast cancer. Whether our breasts are changed (or absent or replaced by something different) or not, whether our hair stayed intact or vanished and re-appeared but looks quite different, whether we have gained or lost weight or watched our bodies morph into an post-menopausal thicker shape, we surely feel differently about our physical selves. Hair is the most obvious outward manisfection of this change, but all the other assaults are painful, too. Fortunately, most of us eventually make peace with our bodies, but it can take a long time.
This is the transcrpit (or podcast if you prefer) from an interview with Dr Ann Katz about these issues. Here is an excerpt and then a link to read more:
What happens when breast cancer impacts our lives and fundamentally changes our body image? In part, it's affected by the kind of treatment that you choose or is chosen for you. There has been an assumption, I think, that lumpectomy is always better than mastectomy in terms of protecting and preserving [a woman's] body.
image. The research does not bear that out fully. ... I certainly have seen it in my practice that women who have had significant breast tissue removed during a lumpectomy often have some really significant body image issues because their breast looks different. There is a big scar on it. They often have difficulty finding a bra that fits, finding a bathing suit that fits. I'm the worst example of that, because I don't even own ... [a bathing suit due to] ... my own personal body image issues.
There are issues around reconstruction — if the reconstruction is done immediately, if it's delayed, if something happens in the process and it's what I call "incomplete." I see a lot of women who, because of some of the vagaries of the system here [in the U.S.], have had their reconstruction but they haven't yet had their nipple construction and the tattooing of the areola. This can often cause quite significant body image issues for them.
The big issue that I see in terms of body image and sexuality with all of the above is that ... the reconstructed breast, or the altered breast, does not look, feel or respond the same way as your own breast, or your "before" breast, or however you want to describe it. Increasingly I'm seeing women who are opting for bilateral mastectomy, I think both as psychological and physical protection against a contralateral breast cancer, or breast cancer in the other breast, and [some women undergo bilateral mastectomy] because of a genetic mutation [that makes them more susceptible to breast cancer].