Breast cancer can and often does do a number on a woman’s body image. You’re saying, “duh,” about now, right?
When you stop and really ponder this, it’s quite remarkable how well most women do manage to adapt and carry on following a cancer diagnosis, surgery (prophylactic counts too) and whatever else is involved in their experiences.
Often we have our breasts chiseled away at, amputated altogether, reconstructed and revamped, sometimes with much success and sometimes not so much. Others opt totally out of that kind of thing, choosing for personal reasons to forge on ahead without breasts at all.
For still others, due to stage at diagnosis and/or other various reasons, there is no mastectomy and/or reconstruction option. This, too, presents challenges. And it doesn’t just end with breasts. Many of us also have inner parts removed or literally sucked out. Sorry, but that’s how some of these procedures are done.
(Of course, there are many other things that add to our sometimes diminished self-image too. Like no longer being able to hold the job we once held. Not being able to finish tasks we used to do and so on. But that’s a post for another day.)
Before my diagnosis, a dear aunt of mine (yes, she had breast cancer) remarked to me one time in a joking manner, “Gosh, I’ve had so many of my female parts removed, I could just as easily be a man.”
Of course, we laughed at the ridiculous notion of that statement, but in reality it wasn’t all that funny.
Regardless of what sex a person is, we all know it’s not the outside package that counts the most, but in the world we live in, it sure as heck counts.
We all know and proclaim that inner beauty and inner qualities matter most; but after cancer wreaks havoc on your body, try telling that to yourself each day before or after your shower while gazing into the mirror at the reflection that doesn’t even look like you any more.
Added to the removal and revamping of body parts, and not just any body parts, but the very parts that epitomize your femininity, sometimes there are also hair, weight gain/loss, libido, pain, lymphedema, neuropathy and a whole host of other issues to grapple with which directly impact your body image and therefore your self-image as well. And of course, let’s not forget all those scars permanently etched onto our bodies and into our psyches.
Saying it’s a lot to contend with is more than an under-statement for sure.
And yet we do contend, adapt, adjust, and carry on; but many of us (including me) work hard to reclaim and/or retain a positive body image and self-image as well, post cancer diagnosis.
I maintain that body image and self-image are not the same. They are intertwined of course, but you can, and many of us do, struggle more with one than the other.
My body image has never been stellar; I would call it adequate and fluctuating, but my self-image has always been relatively solid.
But after a cancer diagnosis, it is harder (and it wasn’t all that easy before) to maintain either one of them and I don’t think I’m alone here either. Post diagnosis, maintaining, rediscovering, redefining or reclaiming your body image and/or self-image takes a good deal of effort, plenty of practice, loads of self-compassion and as much time as necessary. In fact, for most of us, the process never ends.
As you probably know, I also maintain that you cannot really move forward with this reclaiming process until you’ve allowed yourself ample time to grieve for the old you, the you with all your original parts in tact.
And this kind of grieving might have to be revisited from time to time too. Doing so does not mean you are trying to rewind your life, it means you are trying to do the exact opposite, forge ahead.
Skipping this part is like fast forwarding through a movie, you miss important parts.
A very helpful step in all this rediscovery and reclaiming for me anyway, is keeping body image and self-image separate. Again, they are intertwined of course, but they are not the same. Either or both can be damaged, yes even destroyed. But each one can also be built back up, but it won’t be easy.
Finally, always remember that you are enough, just as you are right now, this very minute.
You are worthy just for being you.
So go ahead. Say the words to yourself right now, I am enough. I am worthy just for being me, exactly as I am.
Because it’s true.
Do have body image or self-image issues?
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