Any time you have a treatment that alters a part of your body, that part is never the same. During cancer treatment, surgery, radiation, drains or tubes, placement of ports and intravenous access lines for chemotherapy, leave at least a scar, but sometimes they leave more disfiguring or function-altering changes. These procedures and surgeries can result in lasting effects on how you see your altered body. Clothing may hide scars and changed body parts, but when you’re only in your own skin, alone or with an intimate partner, or looking in the mirror, at that moment, you are most aware of the changes and how you feel about them.
Finding self-acceptance and even re-discovering your own beauty can be a challenge to anyone who has experienced physical changes to their body’s appearance and function. I recently read a post by Nancy Stordahl, patient advocate and breast cancer survivor, about some exercises she recommends to help restore one’s positive self-image.
As a health coach and cancer exercise trainer I work with clients to help them regain confidence in their bodies. I help them improve their function and balance after these surgically- and medically-induced changes. One example is working with fibrotic tissue from radiation. It is less flexible and needs constant movement and range of motion exercises to keep it pliable.
The more you use an altered body part, the more comfortable you become with it. Gaining comfort helps boost your confidence because you feel more sure of your ability to move independently, that it will function the way you want it to, and you have more control over your body as a result.
After having surgery, the first time you try to move with the surgically affected part, in addition to possible pain and swelling, there’s an uncertainty. Once you practice moving a few times, you realize that nothing bad will happen and you begin to work with it more. In addition to the work it takes to rehabilitate function, there’s a struggle in accepting your altered self-image, and thinking about how it looks, both to you and other people who see you.
We tend to judge ourselves most harshly. Even if the physical changes are not evident to others, what’s going on inside of you is altered self-acceptance, and that takes time, effort, and sometimes holistic therapy approaches to restore. That’s the invisible part that often doesn’t enter into discussions about how to recover after cancer treatment. That’s one of the gaps that we work with at Sunspirit Wellness Services, in helping you recover fully as a whole person.