The New You: Coping with Cosmetic Changes

Person holding a handful of shed hair

A Cancer Survivor's Guide to Getting Back to your Confident, Beautiful Self

I am 28 years old and I have a plastic surgeon, but it’s not the circumstance that one would want or hope for. After having a double mastectomy, my plastic surgeon and his medical team reconstructed a brand new chest for me. They were miracle workers who hepled rebuild my confidence. But before the final result, there were several other cosmetic changes that I had to endure. Physical changes are a very real aspect of cancer. Body image issues are easily created from the aftermath of surgery, chemotherapy treatment, radiation treatment, and other forms of reconstruction. Here are some ways to physically and mentally prepare for the inevitable changes. 

Loss of Anatomy

Whether it’s your breasts or some other body part that must be sacrificed to eliminate cancer, it’s never an easy decision. When it came time to choose my surgical approach, I opted for a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. This meant that I would completely lose my breasts and begin the process of placing tissue expanders underneath my chest wall. I was most nervous for the moment when I would wake up from surgery and look down and see nothing. The key to success in this situation is your mentality. Staying positive and finding the good in the situation helps pull you through the bad times. When I was in recovery in the hospital, the nurse asked me if I wanted a moment alone to look at myself in the mirror. I decided to have my mom stay with me for support. So I removed my glamorous hospital gown and took a good long look. No it wasn’t the prettiest sight to see, but then I took a deep breath and said to myself that this is just a stepping stone to the new healthy me. Each day I kept looking in the mirror and would recite some positive affirmation to myself to help me realize that everything would ok because the cancer is gone and I am healthy.

Hair Loss

If you have to undergo chemotherapy, there are several side effects that can take an emotional and physical toll on the body. Watching my hair fall out in clumps was devastating. In this situation, I took control and shaved my head. It is an emotional process to shave your head but also liberating as well. Maybe even have some friends or loved ones shave their head also in solidarity so you don’t feel alone. Always remember, this is temporary and hair grows back. In the mean time you can rock some fashionable scarves, fun colored wigs, or even go all natural with nothing at all. Not all hair loss is bad, just think you won’t have to shave your legs for a couple of months!

Skin Issues 

Radiation is a different kind of beast compared to chemotherapy. It can feel like a really bad sunburn and your skin may discolor temporarily. The key here is moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. Pick up a non-scented and medically approved moisturizer like Aquaphor or Eucerin and use it at least twice a day. This will ensure that your skin bounces back faster after radiation is complete.

Nail Damage 

Sometimes with certain chemotherapy, your nails can become discolored or even detach. This cannot always be prevented. Tea Tree oil is great to rub into the cuticles.This helps prevent infection and sometimes helps lessen the detachment issue. A nail strengthener and polish can also help the nails remain strong during treatment.

These are just some of the physical changes that you might experience while in cancer treatment. The key thing to remember through all of this is to stay positive and remember this is only temporary. Hair will grow back, your body will be healthy and physically normal soon enough. If you need a confidence builder try writing a daily positive note about yourself and stick it on your mirror. Pretty soon you will have a whole bulletin board of positive affirmations that can help rebuild your self-esteem.