by Anne Katz PhD, RN
How we see ourselves refers not just to what we think about but also about how we think we look. This is called body image – and many of us, especially women, have a negative body image. This is in part as a result of the messages we get from the media about what is beautiful and desirable and this usually is put out to sell makeup and clothes and has very little to do with reality and health. But many of us are influenced by these messages and spend a lot of time and money trying to change our shape or appearance.
Cancer and its treatments can have a very real impact on our bodies. Some cancers result in amputations of all or part of a limb. Others leave scars from surgery or stretch marks from weight gain due to steroids. Breast cancer survivors have to live with altered or absent breast(s) and the scars from reconstruction will always be there. Many childhood cancer survivors are shorter than their friends. Chemotherapy can make you lose weight and can decrease muscle mass so that you look like a shadow of who you once were and this can be very hard for guys especially.
While you may not be able to change this, you can try to respond in different ways. Firstly, many young adults (and older adults too) are not happy with their body image and they are just as unconfident getting naked in front of strangers as you are. Remember that when you are in a new relationship, lust will put blinkers on the eyes of your partner who is so into you that he/she won’t notice a scar or stretch mark and they already know if you have a part missing – so relax and think about how you FEEL rather than how you may look. Humour can be a good way to explain a scar – make up a story about a fight in an alley to explain the scar across your throat if you had thyroid cancer. Getting a tattoo over a scar may be something you want to think about – instead of being a sad reminder of what you went through, a great tattoo can be a celebration of your getting through it. You can also always wear something to cover up – sexy underwear, a comfortable t-shirt – or turn the lights down and light some candles for when you get naked with someone new.
Try and focus on what your body can DO rather than on what it looks like. Reframing your thoughts from the negative – “how can anyone want this body that has only one breast?” – to the positive “I am strong and flexible from doing yoga” can make a world of difference in how you think about yourself. No one is perfect – not even the models and celebrities who we see on magazine covers and TV. They spend hours and hours at the gym and in the make-up chair, while the rest of us are living our lives. They are not real and their image is not realistic. YOU are – and so is your partner and you do not judge your partner half as harshly as you judge yourself. Accept your body as a life force, made strong by what you have been through and LIVE and LOVE in and with it.
This chapter’s featured YA Organization:
Cancer Fight Club