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Cancer and Your Body Image

Appearance is often a key part of our identity and if your appearance changes it can affect you in many ways. Depending on your cancer and the surgery or treatments you need your appearance or view of your appearance can change. 

Some of these changes can include things such as;

  • Weight changes either weight gain or loss.
  • Scars or alterations to your physique following surgery
  • Learning to live with a stoma
  • Hair & skin changes, including hair loss
  • Speech difficulties
  • Having lower confidence or self esteem

Experiencing these changes to your appearance can be difficult to adjust to and cause an emotional response. These new emotions may be hard to understand, and you may experience a sense of loss, anger, loneliness or fear. Sometimes you may feel misunderstood by loved ones, more self-conscious or anxious than is normal for you.

How can Big C help?

There are many different types of support or activities that can help ease the affects from a change in appearance, and the mixed emotions it can bring.

Some things to consider are:

  • Visiting a Big C support Centre, where you can talk openly to one of our trained team – often talking through your feelings can help you to make sense of them. It is also completely confidential.
  • Confiding in a close non-judgemental friend or family member can be helpful, as then you have someone close to you who understands how you are feeling.
  • Do things in your own time – only you truly know how you are feeling, so go at your own pace.
  • Join a support group – Big C hold and host some great support groups and have information on many local groups; some are for specific cancer types and others are for ladies, men or carers. They are all different so it’s worth attending a couple until you find one that works for you. Groups are great for peer support, meeting others who have a better understanding of your situation, providing a chance to speak openly in a safe environment, sharing information and gaining friendships. If you find the first one you attend isn’t right for you, try another as they are all different.
  • Introduce some light gentle exercise – Big C is busy introducing Gentle exercise into our Centres as we recognise that physical activity can help lift mood and research shows how beneficial it can be, even very light activity. This could be in the form of short gentle walks that start small and develop as you feel stronger.
  • Learn or practice a form of relaxation – At our Centres we hold relaxation classes that help you practise the art of relaxation; this can then be used at home and if you feel anxious or stressed.

Equally attending a yoga or mindfulness class can offer similar benefits. There are also numerous apps that can be followed to aid relaxation.

  • Seek information and knowledge – this is very individual, but for many finding out more about either their cancer or ways to aid health & wellbeing can enhance feelings of empowerment and a sense of control. At our Centres we have lots of information & knowledge in our libraries and with our teams; we can also point you in the right direction if you want to do your own research, ensuring you use reliable sources for information.
  • Ask our nurses – this service allows time with one of Big C’s registered nurses to ask questions you may have missed when attending your appointment. Our nurses are lucky to have time to sit and discuss how you are feeling with you including practical ways that may address some of the physical changes you are experiencing.

Can talking about it help?

A cancer diagnosis can bring with it many emotions including shock, anger, fear, uncertainty and numbness.

It is important where possible to speak about the way you are feeling, as often this can help you come to terms with things. It is also helpful to realise that this mix of emotions is a natural reaction and that your emotions are likely to change frequently.

People often refer to this as an emotional rollercoaster, which is why our Centres operate on a drop-in basis, so that when you need to talk you can visit us, when you need us most. No appointment needed.

What services at Big C support people faced with appearance changes?

Big C hold & host workshops such as:

  • Look Good Feel Better – a pampering 2-hour workshop that looks at ways to look after the skin and apply make-up, this is now available in some areas for gents too.
  • Healthy Matters and Nutrition workshops – to encourage a healthier life style – which in turn can support weight issues or eating difficulties.
  • Headwear options – available in all our Support Centres and hubs to purchase, where our trained team can talk you through your options and for you to try on.

Other considerations when dealing with changes to your appearance;

It is important when dealing with changes to your appearance you try to remember a few things;

  • You are an individual. Everyone is different and what feels important to you may not concern someone else – this doesn’t matter it’s what’s important to you that counts.
  • Different types of support will help different people, so try not to be discouraged if one doesn’t work for you, try another.
  • Do things in your own time, there is no right or wrong way to feel or act.
  • Try to focus on things that make you happy or feel good.
  • Be proactive – look and ask for information that could help with the thing you are most concerned about; maybe there is a prosthesis or make up you could try, or a new exercise class you could join; could joining a support group help you feel more empowered and uplifted?
  • Reach out when you need help – whether it be to a friend or loved one, or calling a Centre. You matter and people do care about you, try not to isolate yourself.
  • Whatever your concern Big C will always do our best to find answers to the questions most important to you and the right support services individual to your needs, just pop in to a Centre or pick up the phone.

Find support for dealing with body image issues by contacting us:

Contact your nearest Centre

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