Body Image

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work

OCTOBER 05, 2017

This is really a topic for a book, not a short blog. Let's start with the "patient/illness" part of our body images. Prior to a cancer diagnosis, most of us thought of ourselves as healthy and strong. We may have thought that taking good care of ourselves with attention to diet, exercise, and sleep gave us a health advantage. We may not even have thought about our health at all, just taken it for granted that all was well. Once cancer has happened, it is pretty impossible to ever return to that blissful innocence.

Other parts of body image include our appearance, our sexuality, our strength and general sense of self. No one feels her most attractive or desirable while going through cancer treatment. Hair loss, fatigue, nausea, a generalized sense of malaise--these do not add hot to feeling "hot". Or interested. Or interesting. The feelings often persist into the weeks and months post treatment and become more distressing then.

How we look is an obvious consideration. We may have lost a body part or had it altered. Our hair, post chemo, is different. We may have lost or gained weight and find it tough to return to our pre-cancer clothes. None of us look in the mirror and think we see an improvement.

From Living Beyond Breast Cancer comes this excellent article:

Ask the Expert: Body Image

Body image is the way you perceive yourself and how you look. It refers to how attractive you feel and how attractive you think others find you. Body image is not just physical, because how you see yourself is also how you feel about yourself and how confident you are. It includes your emotions, beliefs and perceptions of your body.

Breast cancer and its treatment may change how you feel about your body. You may be coping with scars, pain, weight gain or loss, hair loss or thinning, sexual side effects, lymphedema, or other changes. In September, Living Beyond Breast Cancer expert Darah W. Curran, MSW, LCSW, will answer your questions about body image and breast cancer. She will address issues related to physical changes caused by breast cancer and its treatments, and how those changes affect the way you feel about yourself.

Read more: