Self-esteem and cancer treatment: 5 ways to take control of your body image

Being diagnosed with cancer and undergoing treatment can take a toll on your body image and self-esteem.

Cancer treatments cause changes in appearance such as hair loss, weight gain or loss, scars, changes in skin texture and can impact sexual health. Everyone is different and will experience unique issues both physically and emotionally.

We know these changes can impact quality of life, causing you to feel disheartened and uncomfortable, but here are some ways to improve and take control of your body image.

1. Taking care of your physical and emotional needs

Taking time to care for your physical and mental health is vital, especially after cancer treatment. It can be an emotional time and it’s important to acknowledge how you feel.

Focus on eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, and staying physically active. Engage in activities that make you feel good about yourself, such as practicing yoga, being mindful in nature on a beautiful day, taking a relaxing bath or getting a massage.

2. Focus on what your body can do

After cancer treatment, your body may face new challenges or changes. It’s essential to acknowledge what your body is capable of and focus on nurturing your strengths. Embrace a healthy lifestyle and celebrate small victories and accomplishments such as going for a walk.




3. Redefine your style – find fashion that feels good

If you find yourself in a place where your clothes no longer feel good to you, discover what makes you feel comfortable and confident now.

Experiment with different styles and colours that make you feel good about yourself, and consider clothing that helps you feel comfortable and confident in your body. There are many inspiring stylists on YouTube and other social media platforms who share invaluable tips and advice on how to find your style and self-confidence in all sorts of situations. Have a look around and you may be surprised by where inspiration strikes.

4. Embrace your scars

Scars can be a visible reminder of your cancer treatment. Consider how you might feel if you were to embrace them as a sign of strength and resilience. You can also experiment with makeup or clothing if you choose to do so.

There are some Icon centres that host Look Good Feel Better (LGFB) workshops on-site. In Australia, LGFB is a free national community service that helps improve well-being and confidence for people undergoing cancer treatment. Chat to your local cancer care team on what workshops are available near you.

7. Seek the right support

Surround yourself with people who make you feel good about yourself and support your journey. This can include friends and family members. Support groups provide an opportunity to talk about your feelings and share experiences with others who understand and can help you feel less alone. Some people find it helps them feel more empowered. Support groups can help you work through emotional issues and develop coping strategies to enable you feel more confident and comfortable.

Taking control of your body image after cancer treatment is possible with the right mindset, support, and self-care. Remember to focus on what your body can do, surround yourself with positive influences, and seek help when needed. With time, patience, and support, you can restore your confidence and enhance your ongoing health and wellbeing.

We recently asked our Icon Facebook community to share their personal experiences about how cancer treatment affected their body image. Below is some of the advice and insight they shared for others going through the same journey.

“At first, I struggled looking at myself in the mirror after a mastectomy, then burns from radiation but now I’m just grateful to be alive! After having a reoccurrence four years later I’m again looking at more scars, but I now thank my body for what it does and for keeping me alive to spend more time with my family. What our bodies go through with all of the treatments is amazing. My body at 50 is beaten up and missing parts but I’m grateful every day to open my eyes.”

“If whatever treatment you are having is saving your life and you are still there for your family that’s the most important thing. My pain and scars are just testimony to the battle to survive.”

“I struggle with body image issues ALL THE TIME. I wish I could see myself the same way others do. It is a serious problem and I have had counselling, but nothing can make me think differently. However, cancer hasn’t caused this. I see my many scars as war wounds, but the mental battle continues.”

“It made me realise that what we look like is not as important as I thought. You can still put on some make-up and nice clothes and a cute turban to feel good about your looks. But honestly, most decent people don’t take notice of how perfect your body looks, they care about your attitude.”

“My hair is definitely thinner and patchy after growing back from chemo and I have a wonky eye and one boob, and my ongoing medication gives me some extra rolls. But I have to say that everyone I know and meet respect and treat me for who I am and not what I look like. This helps so much when I look in the mirror and wish just for a moment that I looked like I used to.”

“After treatment I’m finding It takes more time to get back on track, so don’t be hard on yourself. I’m slowly getting my fitness back, losing weight and gaining movement on my cancer side thanks to attention to diet, gym work and Dragon Boating. Get out there and enjoy life where you can.”

“Three years later and I still grieve for the fit body I took for granted before Breast Cancer and chemo. It’s harder to train, to lose weight and build cardio fitness. But then I remind myself just what my body went through. I still get mad sometimes and don’t like what I see in the mirror. But it is a heck of a lot better than the alternative if I hadn’t beat cancer. Much love and strength to those still battling.”

We are always here for youWe are always here for you

At Icon, we are here to support you through every stage of your cancer journey – from diagnosis, throughout your treatment and beyond. If you feel overwhelmed at any stage, we encourage you to reach out to your Icon care team. They can listen to any concerns you may have and help you access the right resources and support to help you through this difficult time.

Alternatively, you might find comfort being part of our Iconic community, hearing the stories and advice from others who understand what you are going through.

The content found on the Icon Cancer Centre website is intended solely for informational purposes and should not be considered as medical advice. It is not a substitute for consulting with a qualified medical professional. Our website is designed to provide information and support to the general public. Please be mindful that we do not dispense medical advice, and for personalised medical guidance, we strongly advise you to consult with a qualified medical professional or doctor.

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