The BIG 'C' and Self-Image:
Bringing the Beauty Back while Beating Cancer
"The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen." - Elizabeth Kubler Ross
October is Women’s Cancer Awareness Month and who doesn’t know someone touched by this illness? The sad thing is it’s everywhere. Cancer afflicts mothers and daughters, grandmothers and aunts, from every walk of life and every nationality.
Cancer robs you of your time, your energy, your health and it can even claim your life. Going through treatment can be difficult and sometimes it’s hard to feel beautiful when your body is changing in so many ways.
♥Remember: "Cancer is a word, not a sentence." - John Diamond
There may be unwelcome physical changes while battling cancer, both during treatment and afterwards. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, these changes could include: hair loss, weight gain or weight loss, scars from surgery, rashes (typically as a result of drug therapies), physical changes from surgery such as the loss of a breast and also severe fatigue.
Being diagnosed with and treated for cancer often causes physical and emotional changes that affect how you view yourself.
Tips for combating this:
There are many solutions: Reconstructive surgery, prosthetic devices and cosmetic solutions, such as Permanent Make-Up, which can help with the loss of eyebrows. Wigs and hairpieces can cover thinning or sparse hair. The Canadian Cancer Agency also recommends talking it out with a friend or another person who has experienced similar changes. They can “provide support and give you suggestions for coping with some of these problematic [issues].”
♥Remember: “It’s not the load that breaks you down; it’s the way you carry it.”- Lena Horne
Physical changes can distort your self-image and can disrupt many aspects of your life. You may not be able to work or feel up to socialising. Relationships can suffer and you may withdraw from activities you previously enjoyed. The Canadian Cancer Agency explains, “It [is] a time for coming to terms with changes… and the chance of dying. This is often quite frightening and has a profound effect on how you view your life.”
You may experience a range of emotions, from anxiety about treatment, fear of cancer and its reocurrence, sadness or depression, to feelings of inadequacy and body image issues.
Ways to Cope:
It may take time to adjust to your new reality, but be kind to yourself. Give yourself permission to feel whatever you’re feeling and make no apologies through this grieving process. Coping with any loss is difficult, but after losing a part of you, like a breast or ovaries, it can take some time to process these changes.
Surround yourself with supportive friends and family. Connect with someone who has experienced the same type of cancer, or join a support group. Seeing a counselor or therapist is also helpful if you need someone to coach you through this difficult time.
Find a way to explore or express your emotions in a way that works for you. Go for walks, spend time in nature, listen to music or watch movies that you connect with, use creative outlets like music, art, crafts or write down your thoughts and emotions through journaling or online blogging.
You may have heard this, but it’s important to understand: You’re not alone. Many people are afflicted with cancer. According to a recent Canadian Cancer Agency report:
It is estimated that 1 in 72 Canadian women will develop ovarian cancer during her lifetime and 1 in 9 Canadian women will be diagnosed with breast cancer.
The Good news?
Cancer rates may be high, but treatment options are getting better and have become more effective. In fact, breast cancer death rates have dropped since the mid 1980s by nearly 40%.
Don’t give up hope. Inspire yourself by reading other survival stories. Look up inspirational articles or delve into research. It doesn’t matter where you draw your strength from, from your church, your spiritual beliefs, science and reason or an online community or group. The important thing is to draw on these resources when times get tough. Having a laugh can also help. Embrace humor and think about the positives. Many cancer patients have reported positive changes in their outlook on life. They find a new appreciation for the strength of their bodies, peace, gratitude and the awareness and sense that life is short and special.
♥Remember: “I learned to seek [my] “inner sexual butterfly” (and to, finally, believe I am worth the seeking, itself.”- Bif Naked
Physical changes as well as emotional ones can also lead to changes in your sex life. Relationships can suffer. Being single can also be difficult. Bif Naked is a popular Canadian musician who has undergone several cancer surgeries and she knows first-hand what it’s like: “When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I lost my sexual confidence. It’s as though my wings were clipped, and I came crashing to the ground.”
“It changed how I saw myself, the way I felt about myself, and even the way I carried myself…The hair loss during chemotherapy saw the end to my signature raven tresses, an end to my eyebrows ever coming back, and my eyelashes all fell out. There was no way I could muster up the confidence to date anyone, never mind “be intimate” with someone new.”
According to Breast Cancer Care UK and their article: Coping Emotionally, “you may not feel interested in sex and your level of sexual activity may decrease or stop completely.” This can happen because of changes in self-image or the physical effects of treatment.
You may also worry about whether your current or future sexual partner(s) will find you desirable and attractive. These feelings are normal, explains the Canadian Cancer Society. Be patient. “It may take time to be able to cope emotionally with any form of intimacy or sexual activity.”
Tips for Coping With Changes In Your Sexuality:
Open communication between you and your partner is key. In fact, the experience can also help partners build emotional intimacy and can sometimes bring them closer together. The important thing is to take it slow and let your sexual partner(s) know about the changes you experience both physically and emotionally.
If sex is painful after or during treatment, you might have to think of other ways to show your affection. Any physical closeness can be enjoyable, such as holding hands, hugging, kissing, or massage.
Try to find ways to feel better about your body. Do something for yourself, something that you enjoy and that makes you feel good like a facial or eyelash extensions. You can also speak to a counselor, either alone or with your partner. It might help just to talk it out with someone you trust.
♥Remember: “When the Japanese mend broken objects, they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold. They believe that when something’s suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful.”- Barbara Bloom
Remember, you are beautiful, inside and out and your emotional and physical scars are simply a testament to your courage. Wear them like a badge of honour. Don’t mope around the house. When you feel up to it, get dressed, go outside or visit some of your friends. Try to do as many of your pre-cancer activities as you did before.
Yes, treatments for cancer may cause changes in your appearance that you don’t like and though you may think that putting on a little makeup is trivial and vain, listen to a well-known style guru and ex-host of TLC’s What Not To Wear, Stacy London:
“Style isn’t just about how you look. [It] bolsters your spirit. There’s power just in getting dressed every day and not staying in your pajamas.”
Her suggestions for looking your best before and after cancer treatment?
- Keep up with your regular grooming habits, such as shaving, waxing, putting on make-up, and fixing your hair, even if you are confined to bed.
- Have your clothes altered if you lose or gain weight.
- Pamper yourself. Have a manicure or pedicure, a facial, a massage, or something else that makes you feel good. (Check with your doctor or nurse first.)
- If you are bothered by hair falling out, you may choose to cut your hair very short or even shave your head.
- If you buy a wig before hair loss begins, a wig shop can better match your hair color and texture. Pacific Hair extensions and Hair Loss Solutions recommends "coming in before treatment begins, so consultants can get a better feel for how your hair naturally looks." That way they can achieve the closest match to your own hair.
- “It’s really important to get your wig styled and cut,” they explain. “It will look more natural if it is styled and frames your face. Knowing how to care for your wig is also important,” she says and Pacific Hair gives all their customers a tutorial on how to style and wash their hair pieces before you bring your wig home.
For more information on chemotherapy wigs and hair pieces, see Pacific Hair extensions and Hair Loss Solutions at http://www.pacifichair.ca, or phone: 604-662-4451
Yes, cancer can happen to anyone and it can be a life-changer, but it doesn’t have to be a life-stopper. Keep strong and strive to find a little bit of beauty even in the ugliest of times!
“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.”- Eleanor Roosevelt
Sources: Image: arianne leishman- "The Best of Me" via Flickr
- 2013 report on Cancer statistics, Canadian Cancer Society, url: http://www.bccancer.bc.ca/PPI/copingwithcancer/emotional/dealingemotions/factsheets.htm
- Cancer Statistics: 10 Facts That May Surprise You, The Huffington Post Canada By Terri Coles; http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/05/01/cancer-statistics-_n_5249156.html
- Facts about Breast Cancer- Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation - www.cbcf.org ; article url: http://www.cbcf.org/central/aboutbreastcancermain/aboutbreastcancer/pages/default.aspx
- Living With Breast Cancer: Your Self-Image & Sexuality, Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation: www.cbcf.org
- Ovarian Cancer Statistics- Canadian Cancer Agency; url: http://www.cancer.ca/en/cancer-information/cancer-type/ovarian/statistics/?region=bc
- Tips for preserving your self-image during cancer- Cancer.Net; article url: http://www.cancer.net/coping-and-emotions/managing-emotions/self-image-and-cancer
Inspirational quotes about Cancer:
- Quote Garden: url: http://www.quotegarden.com/cancer.html
- Everyday Health: url: http://www.everydayhealth.com/cancer/inspirational-quotes-for-cancer-patients.aspx
- How to be Happy.com: url: http://how-tobehappy.com/inspirational-quotes-for-cancer-patients/
- Brainy Quote.com: url: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/cancer.html
- How I got my sexual confidence back after breast cancer – By BIF NAKED - Special to The Globe and Mail; Published Friday, Jul. 04 2014, 1:09 PM EDT; http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/health-advisor/how-i-got-my-sexual-confidence-back-after-breast-cancer/article19462995/