Cancer can feel like the ultimate form of identity theft, especially for Adolescents and Young Adults (AYA) between 15 – 39 years old. Along with the mental and emotional stress of a life-threatening diagnosis, treatment can alter your physical appearance, deplete self-confidence, and leave you feeling broken. Your body becomes an obstacle to your goals even if you are normally confident and seemingly invincible. AYAs are particularly vulnerable to the trauma of distorted body image because of an already challenging phase of life. Entering society, joining the work force, contemplating marriage, and starting a family are overwhelming enough without the burden of a disfiguring disease.
Physical burdens during treatment will vary. Some will be short-term, some will be long-term, yet all will be a challenge. However, knowledge and preparation can help you cope with the transition.
Here are a few potential changes you may encounter during treatment:
Even changes that aren't as visible to others, such as fatigue, a hidden scar, infertility, or early menopause can make you feel different and insecure. Over time, the impact of physical changes will lessen. Some will even disappear. It helps to adopt a positive outlook and understand that cancer doesn’t define you. Here are a few things to consider:
Despite your greatest efforts, there will be moments of fear and insecurity. Reach out to others for help. Camaraderie can restore hope and induce a stronger sense of self on your journey to fight cancer. The AYA Cancer Program at RPCI offers non-biased, emotional support to patients in need, and will help you manage physical changes during treatment and beyond. Here are some additional resources to help you cope with body image issues:
It’s easy to dwell on what your disease can take from you: your hair, your energy, your comfort, your future plans, pieces of your body. But try to remember that cancer can’t take what truly matters—your identity.