Subtopic Categories: R: Patient - Self-esteem/Body Image

JPH Guide

Patient Questionnaire

R: Patient - Self-esteem/Body Image


Relational - Finding Rhythm

Relational: Patient - Understanding the Relational Aspect of the Journey

Coping With Body Changes and Self-Esteem During Cancer Treatment

Receiving a cancer diagnosis brings about a whirlwind of emotions and challenges, often including significant changes to one’s body. Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery can lead to alterations in appearance, causing distress and impacting self-esteem. Coping with these changes is a crucial aspect of the cancer journey, fostering resilience and enhancing overall well-being. In this article, we will explore strategies to help patients navigate the challenges to their self-esteem and body image during cancer treatment.

Understanding Body Changes: Firstly, it’s essential for patients to understand that the physical changes they experience are a result of the treatment’s impact on their bodies, rather than a reflection of their worth or identity. Chemotherapy can cause hair loss, weight fluctuations, and changes in skin appearance, while surgery may lead to scarring or alterations in body shape. Radiation therapy might also cause skin irritation or discoloration. Knowing that these changes are temporary and a part of the healing process can help in managing emotional distress.  When asked a patient how they dealt with these changes they stated, “I was perscribed steroids that made me drastically gain weight in the beginning stages of my treatment which made me super self conscious around my wife.  Then, shortly after, I started chemo which made me lose all of my muscle mass which made me look frail.  It was really hard to deal with at first, but It knew it was a small price to pay considering the treatment was saving my life.”

Seeking Support: One of the most valuable resources for cancer patients dealing with body changes is support from loved ones, support groups, and mental health professionals. Openly discussing feelings and concerns with trusted individuals can provide a sense of validation and comfort. Support groups specifically tailored for cancer patients can offer a platform to share experiences and coping strategies, reducing feelings of isolation and enhancing self-esteem.

Practicing Self-Compassion: Cancer treatment is physically and emotionally demanding, making self-compassion a crucial coping skill. Patients should practice being kind and understanding toward themselves, acknowledging the challenges they are facing and treating themselves with patience and empathy. Engaging in self-care activities such as meditation, gentle exercise, or hobbies can promote a sense of well-being and self-worth.

Exploring Appearance-Related Solutions: For some patients, exploring appearance-related solutions can help alleviate distress associated with body changes. This may include wearing wigs, scarves, or hats to conceal hair loss, using makeup to address changes in skin tone or texture, or seeking out specialized clothing or undergarments to enhance comfort and confidence. Many cancer support organizations offer resources and workshops focusing on managing appearance changes during treatment.

Focusing on What You Can Control: While some aspects of cancer treatment and its effects on the body are beyond one’s control, patients can focus on areas where they have agency. This might involve maintaining healthy lifestyle habits such as nutritious eating, staying hydrated, and gentle exercise, which can contribute to overall well-being and self-esteem. Setting small, achievable goals and celebrating accomplishments, no matter how minor, can empower patients and boost self-confidence.  DJ Stewart GBM survivor stated while wearing the Optune Device, “If I make a joke about what I am wearing first, then you can’t.  I use humor to help with my self-esteem.”

Coping with body changes during cancer treatment is a deeply personal and multifaceted journey, often accompanied by emotional ups and downs. By seeking support, practicing self-compassion, exploring appearance-related solutions, and focusing on what can be controlled, patients can nurture their self-esteem and navigate through this challenging period with resilience and grace. Remember, you are more than your physical appearance—you are a survivor, a fighter, and a beacon of hope.

Read More