Surviving after cancer means finding
ways to accept the unacceptable. We
are free to dislike any or all cancer-
related physical changes, but we should
also recognize that these physical dif-
ferences are separate from who we
are. It takes practice to learn how to
be gentle with ourselves, but here are
some tips to hasten the process:
1) Think clearly about what is likely
to improve. It may take three years
to grow your hair to the hoped-for
length, but it will grow back. In
the meantime, find ways to enjoy
new hairstyles along the way.
2) Accept your new reality. Some parts
of your appearance may be changed
forever. A breast can be reconstructed,
but it will never be the same breast
you once had. Your weight and body
shape may never return to your pre-cancer normal. It is better to accept
an additional 10 pounds than to beat
yourself up for not meeting a number
on a scale.
3) Seek out experts to address concerns
that affect your sense of self. Whether
adjusting to the scars of surgery
or less visible results of treatment,
including changes to libido, seek out
specialists to help you manage and
adjust. If you’re don’t know where to
go, an oncology social worker or your
PHOTO COURTESY OF BETH ISRAEL DEACONESS MEDICAL CENTER
It’s no secret that cancer changes us, but treatment may also change our physical appearance. These alterations can be painful to accept, whether we’re dealing with temporary
reminders such as hair loss from chemotherapy, or more lasting
signs, such as expanding waistlines or surgical scars.
Learning to accept the physical changes that come after cancer treatment takes time and effort.
primary care doctor may be able to
point you in the right direction.
4) Remember that strangers are not
likely to see your perceived flaws.
Those closest to you may notice the
changes, but they will most likely love
you just the same.
5) Try not to compare your present body
with your body before treatment.
Instead of self-criticism, practice
being kind to yourself.
6) Make efforts to enhance what you
have. Stop by the beauty counter to
explore ways to create the illusion of
thicker eyebrows, for example. Try
out some volume-enhancing mascara
to increase eyelash length and thickness. No matter your gender, consider
buying a few new outfits or getting a
new hairstyle that emphasizes your
7) If you hate your scars, a good tattoo
artist may be able to help hide them.
8) You may feel alone in your experiences, but remember, all of us change
as we age. You have good reason to be
upset, but also justification for treasuring the intangibles: relationships,
experiences and life.
HESTER HILL SCHNIPPER, a licensed
independent clinical social worker, is a breast
cancer survivor and the manager of oncology
social work at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical
Center in Boston. She also writes a blog, Living
With Cancer, for the hospital’s website
YOUR CANCER GUIDE | HESTER HILL SCHNIPPER