Cancer and cancer treatment can change your body. Some of the changes are temporary like hair fall and changes in weight, while some other changes may be permanent, depending on your type of cancer.
Such bodily changes might affect your body image and self-confidence. Body image refers to how you feel about the way you look.
In this article, we look at five practical things you can do to feel more confident in your body during and after your cancer treatment.
Prepare for the changes
Knowing what is likely to happen to your body during the cancer treatment can help you prepare for these changes, mentally and physically.
Although it might seem scary at first, having an honest discussion with your doctor about what side-effects to expect during the treatment, might help you in the long run.
Not all patients face the same side-effects, but preparing for the most common ones might help.
For example, if you are likely to experience hair loss, consider cutting your hair short or even shaving it for the duration of the treatment.
If you are having breast cancer surgery, look at what types of clothes will be most comfortable for you after this surgery. You can read more about what to wear after breast cancer treatment here.
Here are a few other things you can do:
- Think about how you are going to respond when asked about your changing appearance by friends or family. Having a ready answer can make the experience easier.
- Select clothes that are suitable for hospital visits and chemotherapy sessions. Clothes with buttons in front might be more convenient.
- If you have lost or gained weight, prepare clothes that better fit you.
- If you will be facing hair loss, think about whether you want to use caps, hats, scarfs or wigs during this time. Many patients prefer not to use these. You can weigh your options and make a choice.
- Get good moisturisers to keep your skin healthy through your treatment. Dry skin is a common complaint during cancer treatment.
It’s important not to get overwhelmed by all the changes. Remember to take it one day at a time. Just focus on what you can do today.
There will be good days and bad days. When you feel mentally or physically tired, rest till you feel better.
Practice daily gratitude
This activity will help you train your mind to think positively about your body. Fix a time of the day when you will spend five minutes thinking of three positive things about your body.
Even with all the side effects, your body is trying its best to cope and survive. Thank it for doing all the things we take for granted, like breathing, eating, walking, bending, smiling and laughing.
Here are some ways of showing gratitude towards your body:
- After every good nap, thank your body for giving you rest.
- Massage your aching limbs to show gratitude for what they have done for you.
- Feel your surgery scars with your finger tips and thank them for helping you complete that stage of your treatment successfully.
- Moisturise your scalp to promote hair re-growth in the future.
Nourish your body
Many cancer patients face some problems with food intake during their treatment. Some lose appetite, while others struggle with changes in taste.
This might be a good time to pamper your body with nutritious food that will give you the energy you need to withstand an intensive treatment.
A cancer nutritionist can make a customised meal plan for you, based on the treatment you are currently on.
You can read more about the best diet for chemotherapy here.
Here are a few other ways of nourishing your body:
- Ensure you drink sufficient water by always having a bottle of water or fresh fruit juice near you.
- Eat with your family rather than alone. Having company at meal times may help you eat better.
- If you crave certain types of foods like ice creams or candy, allow yourself to enjoy these from time to time.
Join a community
There are several cancer communities where cancer patients and caregivers can interact with others who are on the same journey.
Joining a community helps you meet others who will also be coping with body changes from cancer. It will help you feel less isolated. You might also get some good advice on where certain products like wigs or head scarfs can be bought.
You can join Onco.com’s Facebook community to interact with other cancer survivors and patients.
Here are a few other things you can consider:
- Join hobby classes (even online ones) for things you are interested in. You might find good local clubs for yoga, painting, reading etc.
- Cancer listening circles like Talk Your Heart Out help to listen to cancer survivors talk about how they overcame cancer. This might motivate you to keep working on your recovery plan.
- Keep in touch with your family and friends by dropping them a quick message or having regular phone calls.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help from those who are willing to help you. On days when you feel too unwell to cook, or to buy groceries, ask your family and friends to help you with these chores. Allow them to be a useful part of your life.
- Keep moving
While your body may feel weaker than it was, you can still enjoy doing some simple physical exercises.
Adding movement to your daily routine can help you enjoy your body through simple activities. Taking a short walk or doing a few easy stretches may help you feel active.
Movement keeps your muscles and bones healthy while also improving your digestion and appetite.
Rest when you feel tired, and move when you feel more energetic. Avoid setting tough goals for your physical fitness during this time.
On days when you don’t feel like doing any physical activity, try some breathing exercises. These will help you calm down and reduce your stress and anxiety.
Different people adjust to their new body in different ways. While some may not be too bothered about these physical changes, some others may find it very difficult to come to terms with it.
If you are finding it difficult to deal with your new body, consider speaking to a cancer counsellor.