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Physical impacts and body image after treatment

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After having cancer, you may feel worried, angry, or frustrated by the changes that your body has had to undergo from treatment. You may feel self-conscious or experience body image issues due to physical changes, which can impact your mental health, and how you view your body. If your body looks and feels different, it’s important to remember what your body has been through, and what it has accomplished by getting through treatment. It might prove helpful to focus on what your body can do - and look at all the unique ways your body helps you each day!   

Body Image and Changes  

Some cancer treatments can change how your body looks, feels and works – and this can affect how you feel about yourself (your ‘body image’). Remember that it is completely normal to have an emotional response to any changes. 

Physical changes you may have because of cancer treatment might include: 

- Losing your hair, eyebrows or eyelashes 

- Losing or putting on weight 

- Skin and nail changes 

- Scarring from surgery 

- Loss of a limb 

Body changes you may have because of cancer treatment that aren’t visible to others: 

- Infertility or early menopause 

- Reduced sex drive or difficulty having sex 

- Feeling fatigue, weak or tired  

- Changes in sensations such as numbness in hands and feet (peripheral neuropathy) 

Looking after your physical body 

Our Youth Cancer Service has some advice about how to care for your physical body well across this time and a few tips about dealing with changes to your appearance after cancer treatment.

Chat to your treating team or late effects team about specific advice for your situation too; and in Australia, you might also consult the Cancer Council for information and support on 13 11 20.

Looking after your mental wellbeing 

What goes on in your head can have a huge impact on what happens in your body. Stress does weird stuff to you, so taking care of your mental wellness is paramount, especially after going through cancer. Some tips to help you look after your mind: 

- Stay curious about what you see on social media and avoid comparing yourself to others

- Unfollow people that bring down your confidence, instead focus on those who inspire you or make you feel good about being you. 

- Deal with the small stuff where you can, so that you don’t spend time and energy worrying about it. 

- Give yourself time to get used to how your body may have changed. This can take a while and that’s okay. 

- Be gentle with yourself, and talk about how you are feeling 

- Do activities that make you feel good-going walking, being at the beach, reading a book, calling a friend… 

- Wear clothes that you know make you feel good! 

- Write your thoughts and feelings down – there are also apps you can use  

- Connect with other young people who are in the same situation and understand what you’re going through (maybe including here on Connect!)

- Learn some new ways to relax, or build on the skills you already have – here’s a video some of our Connect leaders made… 

Body Image is important for everyone – Butterfly Foundation have some great tips here that you may find useful.