Body image

Some cancer treatments can change how your body looks, feels and works – and this can affect how you feel about yourself (your ‘body image’).

Physical changes you may have because of cancer treatment include losing your hair, losing or putting on weight, and feeling tired. These changes are usually temporary.

Sometimes cancer or cancer treatment leaves you with more permanent changes, such as scarring from surgery or loss of a limb.

It is completely normal to feel anxious or self-conscious about the physical changes to your body during or after your cancer treatment. It’s also normal to feel sad, angry, shy, embarrassed or frustrated.

How you feel about yourself often affects your relationships with others. If you are unhappy or embarrassed about the way you look you may not feel like socialising, or worry about how your partner or friends will react. Talking openly about how you feel will probably make them less awkward and able to support you better.

Tips for coping with changes to your body and appearance

  • Give yourself time to get used to how your body may have changed. This can take a while and that’s okay.
  • Join a support group or chat online to other young people who are experiencing or have been through the same kind of physical changes due to cancer treatment. Ask your YCS nurse or social worker to recommend a group or site, or connect with Canteen to chat to other young people.
  • Talk about it. Talking to your family or friends about how you feel can help you push through negative thoughts. Let them know you need their support.
  • If you have a partner, being open and honest about how you feel may also make them feel more comfortable and they will be able to support you better.
  • Be ready for awkward questions. Your friends and other people won’t mean any harm, but they may ask you questions about any obvious changes in your appearance. It’s also okay to tell people you don’t want to talk about it. You may need to give them some guidance on what works best for you.
  • Talk to your doctor or nurse about your concerns. They are the best sources of factual information about how long physical changes will last and how they might affect your life. They can also recommend a counsellor or psychologist to help you work through your feelings and develop strategies to feel better.
  • Keep your body healthy. Help yourself to feel good by eating nutritious foods and exercising no more than your body can handle. Talk to your doctor about exactly how much and what kinds of exercise you should be doing.
  • Build up your confidence. Wear clothes that make you feel good. Have a makeover or try out a new look.
  • Hang out with people that make you feel good and accept you as you are.
  • It’s okay to want to hide and keep away until you feel ready, but don’t withdraw for too long, being around others is important.