Body image is the way you view yourself and your body. For some women, breast cancer may be associated with a loss of confidence about the way they look and how attractive they feel, especially as our culture often tells us that breasts are a symbol of being feminine and being a woman.
Tips for Dealing With Body Image Concerns:
- Be patient and give yourself some time to get used to body changes. Spend some time alone getting used to your body. Scar tissue can change over time, and become fainter.
- Grieve over the loss or change in your body. Mourn your loss. It is real and you have a right to grieve.
- Focus on ways that coping with cancer has made you stronger, wiser, and more realistic.
- Recognize that you are more than your cancer.
- Be proud of your body. It got you through treatment, so focus on the positive!
- Hair regrowth, after chemo, is gradual over a period of about six months. Over time, your hair will look a lot like it did before cancer. Some women notice a change in their hair texture or color (you’ve probably heard the term “chemo curl”), so try out new cuts or styles.
- Your prosthesis may need to be readjusted after treatment, if you have had mastectomy. If you have not yet had a prosthetic fitting, ask your doctor for a referral. You should be refitted once a year, or after any weight loss or gain. Additionally, there are many boutiques that cater to breast cancer survivors that can help with undergarments as well as fittings. (See our Undergarment Tutorial and check for these types of services in our local area resources.) Check with your insurance provider, as often bras and prostheses are covered by major medical insurance.
- Contact your local American Cancer Society “Look Good…Feel Better” Program. This is a free, public service program available in many areas of the country. Its purpose is to teach breast cancer survivors beauty practices that will help restore the way they look, as well as their self-image during and after cancer treatment.
- Although you may view your body in a different way, don’t think that your spouse or partner sees things the same way you do. Your spouse or partner cares for you as the whole person, not for each body part. Spend time together to discuss your concerns about body image after breasts after surgery. If you feel this way, take some time to explore these changes yourself and then include your spouse or partner.
- * Find clothes that make you feel good about yourself. * Sexual changes might also be impacting how you view your body. Read more about those changes under our “Side Effects” and “Relationships” topics and get advice about how to deal with those.
Emotional & Spiritual Health
Maintaining and Fostering Hope
Hope is always viewing the cup as half full. Being diagnosed and going through treatment often causes women to lose hope. Once treatment is over, many women feel a return of hope, while others keep feeling hopeless. Here are some tips to help you get back hope after breast cancer treatment.
- Be aware that it is normal to feel sad or to wonder: “Why me?” Having hope does not mean sticking your head in the sand and pretending that you never had breast cancer.
- Think about the things in your life that give you hope. What do you look forward to? They can be simple things or big life events.
- Join a support group or talk with others. People acquire hope by talking with others who have been through the same thing and survived. Look for in-person and online support and resources as found here and our social media platforms.
- Read a book that inspires you. Much like support groups, hearing how others came through a similar tough time can give hope.
- Reflect on the meaning of life and death. Decide what means most in your life. You’ve been through a lot and finding meaning in your experiences helps you accept them and put them in the past. You may want to talk with your minister, priest or spiritual leader and discuss your faith’s spiritual part of hope.
- Share your story of survival with family, friends and others who need hope. Talking about your story helps give you feelings of success in survival.
- Enjoy nature. Go outside and sit in the sunshine, take a walk in a park, watch the birds or find some way to enjoy the beauty in nature.
- Treat yourself with a relaxing bubble bath, manicure or massage, listen to your favorite music or watch a sunset.
- Take time for prayer and meditation, which can help you focus on your true priorities.
- Create a joy collage or memory book by cutting out pictures or poems in magazines that represent hope to you.
- Learn more about breast cancer and its treatment. New and improved cancer treatments are helping more people to survive this disease. Knowing the facts makes facing the future easier.
- Remember your past accomplishments and the inner qualities you possess that helped you get them. Think about how these qualities can help you to regain hope now as a breast cancer survivor.
- Set realistic short term goals, as you achieve them you will gain confidence.
- Laugh! Cancer isn’t funny, but a lot of the things that have happened to you as a result of your cancer are. A good sense of humor can carry you a long way.
- Journal: Write down all of your feelings of hope and despair in a journal or diary and track them. You may want to work out what you want to say to your doctors, your spouse, or how you will tell loved ones about your breast cancer. Anything you want to write about is fine. Include the things that give you hope as well as the things that discourage you.
- Find one that you like. One that opens flat makes writing easier.
- Choose a quiet, private place where you will not be bothered by sounds, sights, or smells.
- Write as often as you want or feel the need to, but try to write for 15 minutes at a time each day.
- Keep your pen moving. Keep writing and your mind will deliver what it wants to write. Some persons who journal enjoy drawing in their journals, so you may want colored pencils too.
- Many people feel that writing thoughts on paper helps them be more organized and focused. Some persons who journal report that writing down thoughts also helps their emotional well-being.
- Whatever the topic, you should explore your experience (what happened) and your feelings about it.
- Don’t worry about grammar, spelling, or sentence structure.
- Focus on those issues in breast cancer that you are dealing with right now.
- Really “let go” about your very deepest feelings- What do you feel and why you feel that way.
- Keep in mind that what you write is for your eyes only. You do not have to justify your thoughts to please someone else. Do not write thinking someone else will read it.
- Don’t use writing as a substitute for action or to avoid things.
- Rest. Regaining hope takes energy and is hard when you are tired or weary. Pass on chores to family and friends. Create a “Hope Box” or basket and place slips of paper with tasks others can do for in it. Then when others ask “What can I do to help?”, let them look through the basket and choose.
- Find ways to feel needed, valued and cared for in relationships.
- Talk to your family and friends. They have a lot of the same feelings and fears that you do. Encourage, but do not force, one another to talk. Listen carefully to each other’s feelings. Provide comfort and support. Talk about your current situation and remember past illness and losses to help make sense of the situation.
- Try deep breathing and relaxation exercises several times a day.
- Volunteer in a breast cancer support group, as a breast cancer supporter, or for another cause you feel strongly about. Having a sense of purpose gives you hope.
Spirituality can give life meaning and purpose. It can exist whether or not a person has any formal religious background. People who have been faced with cancer often have questions and concerns of a spiritual nature. You may ask questions such as: Why me? Why now? Where is God or a higher power in my life? Having one’s life changed by cancer can raise spiritual and religious concerns, or draw you closer in your faith. If you want to foster your sense of spirituality, try the following:
- Be aware of the spiritual nature of your being. Spiritual and religious practices such as going to a service, spending time with others who share the same beliefs, prayer, meditation, and listening or singing songs may provide you comfort.
- Seek out someone you trust, a pastor, priest, elder or clergy who can offer support. Think about your need to have someone listen and care. Also think about who will help you with advice, prayer, rituals and religious practices.
- During times when doubt and fear is greatest, the knowing of a higher power or God in your life may be a great comfort.
- Read religious or spiritual books. Listen to recordings, music and readings to gain inner meaning and depth in your spiritual life.
- If you belong to a spiritual or religious group or community, seek activities such as support, fellowship and community prayer for comfort.
Art & Nature
Art has long soothed people, while studies have shown that doing creative activities make people happier. Research also shows that being in nature makes us feel better too. So don’t underestimate the healing powers of both art and nature, and try to incorporate them into your life.
- Listen to music. Music has helped calm the soul for years. The choice of music is up to you – whether you enjoy classical, rock, jazz, alternative, spiritual or religious music. Take a few minutes each day to listen to music and relax.
- Reading books, poetry, scriptures, and/or spiritual books may also provide you a new view of living after breast cancer and in caring for your soul, body, and mind. Sometimes, other breast cancer survivors may share a poem or story of interest. Others have also shared stories of survival. Read some of these stories to help you in healing after breast cancer.
- Expressing your artistic side through painting and/or art appreciation is soothing and healing for the soul. Even if you have never tried painting in the past, think of this as a way to express yourself.
- Enjoying nature through walks, hiking or sports can help you to heal. Women who have taken part in wilderness and Outward Bound-type activities have found great pleasure and healing.
Finding Meaning In Life
Making meaning of one’s life after facing cancer can be a good experience, even though it might take time. Going through difficult times is never what we want to do, but we can learn and grow from them and come out stronger on the other side. Here are some ways others have found meaning in dealing with breast cancer:
- Take time to think about the meaning of having breast cancer and its impact on your life. Know that the search for meaning involves looking at yourself and your relationships with others.
- Cancer can be a wakeup call. Take this opportunity to reprioritize and refocus your energy on what is important and don’t sweat the small stuff.
- Talk to others with breast cancer. Seek support from others who have had breast cancer and are willing to talk about what has helped them.
- Practice relaxation exercises. See “Physical Activity & Relaxation” on this site.
- Think about building and leaving a legacy. How do you want to be known and recognized? Come to terms with the good things you have done in your life.
- View breast cancer as a challenge that you have met. Think about the strengths that you have found or used during your treatment for breast cancer. Use these strengths. Think how breast cancer has affected your life for the good.
- Be aware of and build up inner resources such as self-worth, humor, coping, drive and self-determination. Focus on the good outcomes of breast cancer.
- Express your thoughts and feelings about breast cancer. Use journal or diary writing as an activity to help in the search for meaning. (See tip on Journaling).
- Finding purpose in life. Think about helping others who have just found out that they have breast cancer. Join in support activities or volunteer for another cause you would like to support.
- Know that talking about finding meaning in life after breast cancer may not always be easy with your family or friends.
- It’s okay to grieve the loss of your life before cancer, but don’t forget to appreciate your life now.
When Do You Need To Seek Help?
Finally, if you are feeling depressed, angry, emotionally adrift, like you’ve lost your faith, or experiencing any of the myriad emotional and spiritual changes that many, if not most, breast cancer survivors go through, know that you are not alone. You might want to start by talking to your health care team to rule out any physical issues and to get the advice or referrals for help in dealing with your emotions. Don’t be afraid to ask family and friends for help. Seek counseling and support groups. Talk to spiritual leaders like a pastor or a priest.
American Cancer Society/Body Image and Sexuality After Breast Cancer:
American Cancer Society/Body Image: A Focus In Breast Cancer Care:
Living Beyond Breast Cancer/:
Breastcancer.org: Accepting The Nude You:
Emotional & Spiritual Health
American Cancer Society/Stories of Hope:
National Cancer Institute/Facing Forward: Life After Cancer Treatment:
Cancer.Net/The Power of Writing:
National Cancer Institute/Spirituality in Cancer Care:
Videos to Watch:
General Overview of Psychosocial Oncology
Dr. Mary Kathryn Rodrigue discusses how cancer can affect your mental health and offers steps to find someone to talk to about the non-physical effects of cancer like depression or anxiety.
Body Image & Sexual Intimacy Common Issues
Dr. Mary Kathryn Rodrigue discusses how our body image may change due to cancer treatment and how to talk to your doctor about these changes and how they are affecting your life.