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Maintenance of Body Image during cancer treatment

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Cancer Care

Maintenance of Body Image during cancer treatment

Dr. Ranga Rao
Medical Oncology, Oncology / Cancer Care
Medical Oncology, Oncology / Cancer Care
Director - Medical Oncology

Suffering from Cancer? Do not have the strength to fight against the disease? The disease has destroyed your self esteem and no matter what you do, there is nothing that can make you feel good. A few FAQs on how to cope up with the changed body image during cancer treatment can give you a sense of relief.

What are the common changes in your body during cancer treatment?

This disease can change the way you look temporary or permanently. This can be true for few patients and not all of them.

  • Chemotherapy can make your hair fall
  • You will have to undergo a surgery to remove a part of your body or swelling in  body part
  • Radiation therapy can cause several changes
  • Skin changes or nail discoloration
  • Weight changes (weight loss or gain)

How long can these changes last?

These physical changes may be temporary or permanent. You should consult the best oncologist about your situation.

How can I develop my behavioural skills to overcome the changes in the body image?

Sometimes people may stare, make comments, ask questions or avoid people with body changes. This can be upsetting and hard to deal with. To overcome this, you may develop your social skills on how to communicate in social gatherings and dealing with other people’s reactions. You may wish to think about:

  • Presentation – The way you present yourself overall is important, for example, dress and accessories. It conveys a message to other people about how you feel about yourself.
  • Posture – Communication involves the whole body. Standing with your shoulders back and head up makes you look confident and assertive.
  • Engaging with people – Making eye contact, smiling and nodding tells others that you’re approachable.
  • Taking the initiative – You may wish to talk about your body changes at an appropriate point in a conversation.
  • Having self confidence and believing in one self is of utmost importance. This can reduce your anxiety and help you maintain control.

How to cope with the loss of breast?

Surgery may take a part of breast or remove the entire breast. If one or both of your breasts are removed, you may have to choose to have your breasts rebuilt through reconstructive surgery. Breast reconstruction may restore the shape and size of your lost breast. However, it can’t restore normal feeling in the breast. Your nipple(s) also might be removed. Over time, the skin on the rebuilt breast becomes more sensitive, but usually you will not feel the same kind of pleasure as before surgery. Still, breast reconstruction may help restore sexual enjoyment because it can boost feelings of wholeness and attractiveness. Instead of reconstruction, you might choose to use a prosthesis, a breast form inserted in a bra, or to wear nothing at all.

How can I take care of my skin during the treatment?

Dryness and irritated skin are a part of chemotherapy treatment. Rather than waiting to deal with symptoms after treatment starts, patients can take steps to minimize skin problems one week before chemotherapy starts. Then, they can continue their routine activities during treatment. Doctors recommend:

  • Taking long, hot showers or baths.
  • Using gentle, fragrance-free soaps and laundry detergent.
  • Using moisturisers, preferably creams or ointments rather than lotions because a thicker layer of creams are better at preventing skin dehydration. Apply the cream or ointment within 15 minutes of showering. Reapply moisturiser at night, and keep moisturising your hands every time after you wash them.

Please Note: As long as there are no open sores on your skin, swimming is fine for chemotherapy patients. However, spas or hot tubs aren’t a good idea. Check this with your doctor.

Why do some chemotherapy patients lose their hair, not just on the scalp, but also on their eyebrows, eyelashes, and the rest of their bodies?

Ask your doctor about the likelihood of hair loss before you start your treatment, so that you are well-prepared and know what you may expect.

Options to deal with hair loss during chemotherapy:

  • Decide before you begin chemotherapy whether you want to wear a wig. You may want to shop before treatment to match your hair colour.
  • Hats, turbans, and scarves can also camouflage hair loss, although some people prefer to leave their heads uncovered.
  • Cut your hair short or shave it subject to your social and religious acceptance. It eases the inconvenience of shedding lots of hair, but it also can reduce the emotional impact of watching your hair fall out.
  • Don’t perm or colour your hair during chemotherapy. Those chemical treatments are already damaging to hair and can enhance hair loss. With chemotherapy, hair loss is almost always temporary. But when it grows back, it may be a different colour or texture.

How to care for your nails during treatment?

During chemotherapy treatment, nails become brittle and dry and develop lines and ridges. They can also get dark with certain chemotherapy medications. However, the effects are temporary and can last for months. A home care remedy can be that you can soak your fingers or toes in a solution of white vinegar and water for 15 minutes every night. It kills the bacteria but causes dryness.

How can I socialize with a stoma?

In colorectal cancer treatment, stoma is often a temporary or permanent requirement. You might feel embarrassed while socializing with it, hence you can do the basic requirements like:

  • Apply some deodorant to cover up the smell after stoma is changed. Plus, some companies also have odor free and scented stoma bags.
  • Dietary changes can be done to decrease the output so that during social gatherings there is a lesser requirement for a stoma change.

How can I cover the drains and the Uro bags?

Drain bags and the uro bags can be covered with the normal clothes with drain tubes inside a stoma bag. Uro bags can be strapped to the thigh so that they are covered by the clothes.

How can a person rehabilitate if he has an amputated limb?

Limb prosthesis imitates a normal limb and can have joints attached for normal functioning of movements.

There will be many unique things which you will come across during your journey. Let others also know!!