Loving your body after breast cancer
The way we look at different stages in our lives can affect our body image, sometimes for the better and other times for the worse. Breast cancer treatment can bring many changes to how your body looks, from surgery scars to hair loss to potential weight gain. After treatment ends and you’re getting ‘back to normal’, learning to love and appreciate how your body now looks and feels is part of the process.
It’s normal to feel self-conscious, especially if you’ve had surgery – with or without reconstruction. It can be confronting to see the changes to your body after treatment, but taking the time to get used to these physical changes is an important step in gaining confidence in the way you look.
The Sexual Advice Association in the UK has a process for cancer patients that can help you to get used to looking at the changes to your body.
- Look at yourself in a full-length mirror, fully clothed, and pick three things you really like about yourself.
- Repeat the step, but this time do it while in your underwear.
- When you feel ready, you can try looking at your naked body in the mirror. Describe what you see and what you like, or what makes you feel uncomfortable or awkward.
- Look at and touch your scars or breast reconstruction so you get used to how it feels.
- The more often you look at and feel your body, the less different it will seem.
Having a healthier perspective on your body also brings benefits for your wellbeing. A study of women aged 25-50 who were treated for breast cancer found that poorer body image had a significant effect on their emotional wellbeing, breast cancer-specific concerns, and health related quality of life. As we wrote on our blog previously, a negative body image can also be a barrier to recovery, as breast cancer survivors who feel ashamed of their ‘new’ body are less likely to get enough exercise. On the other hand, even a short bout of exercise can have a positive effect on your body image, so making time to be active during your day could be part of embracing how your body now looks.
If you’re finding body positivity a challenge at this time, it can help to adopt the mindset of ‘body neutrality’. Body neutrality is the concept that encourages you to accept the body you’re in and focus on its achievements, rather than its appearance. Instead of asking what you like about your body, you could look at what it allows you to do, such as going for a walk or cooking a meal or working in the garden. The focus is less on what you love about your body, and more about seeking to be at peace with the body you are in.
If you’re struggling with self-image during or following treatment for breast cancer, you may like to see a counsellor – we fund three free sessions for anyone who's had a breast cancer diagnosis.