A common struggle for breast cancer survivors is how to master body positivity throughout their body changes from breast cancer treatment. Reconnecting with their changed bodies is often mentally and emotionally challenging. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and this is one of the most important struggles related to breast cancer to be aware of. “Love your body” is a concept that is often easier said than done. This is true for many women, not just cancer survivors. Those who have survived breast cancer treatment, however, have an especially tough time reconnecting with and loving their changed body.
Breast cancer often has a drastic impact on the patient’s body, with breast cancer treatment resulting in double mastectomies, removal of breast tissue, scarring, hair loss, weight loss, and weight gain.
Kelli Jaecks, a breast cancer survivor (whose treatment included a double mastectomy and a complex skin-sparing procedure) explained how she dealt with the changes in her body. “It is certainly a shock to realize your physical body is forever changed,” says Jaecks. “For me, it is the scars from surgery, right across the midline of my left breast, where I lost my areola and nipple to breast cancer. I also have a hip-to-hip scar where fat and blood vessels were harvested to transplant under my breast skin. I will never look the same again. When I look in the mirror at my naked body, it’s hard to come to terms with the fact that this is me now.”
If you’re having trouble mastering body positivity while healing from breast cancer, take comfort in knowing you are not alone, and there are coping strategies that could work for you. Learning to love your body and being comfortable in your own skin requires daily effort for countless women, but it is an achievable goal.
It would be helpful to think of self-love as performing daily hygiene habits such as brushing your teeth. You may not find it particularly thrilling to do these tasks, but putting in the work is worth it. In the same token, the art of self-acceptance requires consistent effort and commitment, especially when you are going through the ravages of breast cancer treatment. Here’s how you can stay body positive and reconnect with your changed body:
Boost Your Confidence with Custom-Designed Clothes That Fit Your Changed Body
It’s not going to be easy to find clothes in your closet that fit properly if you’ve undergone a double mastectomy, lost or gained weight. You’ll likely need to buy new clothes that fit right. It’s also important for some women to find clothing that covers their scars from surgery. This is why custom-designed clothing is your best bet to reconnect with your changed body.
Shelley Klassen, fashion designer and owner of Shelley Klassen Designs has helped cancer survivors by designing clothes that fit and make them feel confident. Shelley Klassen says,
“Rebuilding confidence with our cancer-conquering clients through custom design is something I feel very passionate about. Having lost a sister to breast cancer and aiding my mother with her double mastectomy, this topic touches very close to home. Clients dealing with weight gain, weight loss, scarring and mastectomies, all have unique issues to address. With custom design, we are able to assess and accommodate their personal needs. I’ve created halter dresses designed to cover scar tissue, with bust cup liners to add and remove prosthetics, have balanced out bust cup size, even created garments with different size sleeves to accommodate a swollen arm with compression sleeve due to poor lymph node drainage from breast cancer surgery. While it is difficult to face a changed body, our goal is to aid our clients in moving forward with confidence in beautiful clothing made for them.”
Try Motivational Meditation
There are many motivational, guided meditations out there that focus on body positivity. Perhaps you’ll find the perfect guided meditation on YouTube – one that helps those who feel disconnected from their body reconnect with and love their body.
Curious which guided meditation to try?
Breast cancer survivor Kelli Jaecks says, “A key for me to reconnect to and actually love my body again, was using a meditation I had heard from Belleruth Naparstek. She talks about your body being your oldest friend. She (my body) has been with me through every trauma and joy. She is the place my soul lives, she is here supporting me. Those thoughts help me embrace my body as it is, help me remember to honour my body, which has travelled with me my whole life through thick and thin. My body is a survivor, too, and should be honoured as such.”
Focus on Your Strengths Instead of Worrying About ‘Conventional Beauty’
Now is the time to ignore the unrealistic standards of beauty perpetuated in magazines. Remind yourself that the images of women in Vogue or other ads are mostly of models who undergo extreme diets and exercise regimens. They are often photoshopped and airbrushed to perfection. Each time a negative thought about your body enters your mind, counter it with affirmations of your strengths.
Make a list of all your strengths, from what you love about your body to your talents or unique achievements. Tape this list of strengths to your cabinet or mirror, so every time you feel down, you can visualize it. In general, it’s a common bad habit for people to focus on what they are dissatisfied about and overlook the blessings. It’s up to you to break that bad habit.
Now is the time to remind yourself of what your body has allowed you to do. Remind yourself of the strength of your body and what it has done, such as bearing children or enduring cycles of chemo. It would also help to keep a gratitude journal. Write one entry per day, because every day may not feel good, but there is at least one good thing to be grateful for in each day.
Speak Positive Affirmations to Yourself in the Mirror
If you engage in negative self-talk, it will be difficult to master body positivity. Speak kindly to yourself and be your own best supporter. One of the most effective ways to practice loving yourself is by speaking positive affirmations aloud in front of the mirror. Do this often, especially when you are feeling down. Treat your body as you would your best friend. After all, you don’t say nasty things to your friends because you don’t want to hurt their feelings, right? Treat yourself with that same level of consideration, care and respect.
It can be difficult to feel appreciative and thankful for your body, especially when it changes so drastically because of breast cancer. However, you must try to fight ill feelings because this very same body is fighting hard to overcome your disease.
The fact that you are struggling through breast cancer treatment shows you have the inner strength to forge on even when times are very difficult. Be your own cheerleader and give yourself verbal encouragement every single day. You can try the following:
- Make it a habit to say one kind thing to yourself in front of the mirror daily.
- Put post-it notes in your fridge with positive quotes.
- Write positive affirmations on your mirror with magic marker.
- Set daily encouragement reminders on your smartphone and PC.
Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
Embrace the idea that women come in all shapes and sizes. Every woman is beautiful in her own way. Just imagine how dull it would be if everyone looked the same. Now is the time to stop comparing yourself to others, because comparison is the thief of joy.
Enjoy and love the skin you’re in, including and especially your flaws. As you seek treatment for breast cancer, you will encounter many different women undergoing the same journey towards healing. Appreciate the depth and strength of character that you share. Your strength of character is much more important than a ‘perfect’ body.
Surround Yourself with Positive People and Positive Messages
The picture-perfect photos on social media from influencers can be antagonizing, especially when you feel down due to changes in your body. Now is the time to reaffirm that what you see is an illusion. It is but a mere snippet of someone’s life, and it is not a true representation of who they are. Besides, most posts are curated with the background staged and filters applied to hide the imperfections.
Unfollow accounts like these. Veer towards body-positive content that channels authenticity and body acceptance. You have the power to curate your social media feed. You can hide the diet gurus and replace them with people who encourage you to love your genuine self. Listen to uplifting songs and podcasts. Most of all, surround yourself with positive people because they will boost you up when you feel blue.
Look at Your Body as a Whole and Don’t Zero-In on What’s Changed
When you look at the mirror and see the changes in your chest and physique, it can be very difficult to come to terms with those changes. After all, many women associate their femininity and body image with their breasts. Losing your hair will also damage self-esteem. Dealing with body changes from breast cancer will be emotionally and mentally draining. Remind yourself that though you are entitled to feel sad for a while, it would be unhealthy to wallow in misery forever.
You may also be currently bald or retaining water but think of these elements as a sign of how strong you are for undergoing surgery and forging through different therapies no matter how difficult or painful they are. You are a warrior and survivor who is so much more than how you look. Instead of focusing on your appearance, stay engaged with your passions. To distract you from fixating on how you look, you can try the following:
- Engage in a new hobby such as collecting inspiring quotes or reading books
- Start a physical activity routine, such as regular nature walks with a family member
- Watch a movie with a dear friend
- Start crafting work knitting, scrapbooking, or jewelry making
- Experiment in the kitchen to make healthy food
Engaging in activities like these will remind you that the human body is not just for appearances, but it is a vessel that allows you to perform many things. Doing productive activities will make you feel good. It gives you a sense of purpose and offers goals that make you feel excited to get up in the morning. Besides, when you reach your objectives, it boosts your self-confidence. Thus, it is always good to focus your energy and convictions on worthwhile endeavors to give you direction and make you feel happy even if you are battling breast cancer.
Treat Your Body Kindly and Do Something Nice for Yourself
Take the time to do something nice for your body. Give it the love it deserves for helping you get through chemo, fine needle aspirations, biopsies, surgeries, and other treatments. It can be as simple as earthing and laying down on the grass. You can even take a bubble bath, book a massage, or get your nails done. Something as simple as treating yourself to a manicure or pedicure can help you reinforce positivity.
Most of all, honour your body by making nutritious meals to fuel you for treatments. If your doctor allows it, exercising will release endorphins (the happy hormone). Show appreciation for your body because, despite breast cancer, it still allows you to do things, takes you to places, and helps you feel a wealth of emotions.
Compliment Others and Be Their Silver Lining
Positivity is infectious, and smiles are contagious. So if you want to feel positive in spite of what you’re going through with breast cancer, the easiest way to do that is by being kind to others. Giving people compliments and doing random acts of kindness will make others happy and make you feel good in the process. Remember, being kind to others opens up your heart, and it helps you become kinder to yourself, too.
Play your part in breast cancer awareness month and share your story on your feed to remind your family and friends to perform monthly breast self-exams and get professional screening. In addition, if you have family members you’re worried about, encourage them to get a DNA test to find out their cancer and disease risk. Results will show an individual’s predisposition for breast cancer, allowing them to stay vigilant with their diet and breast checks.
When you become someone’s silver lining, the happy feelings will rebound back to you. Think of it as karmic justice in a world that’s already full of negative messages. Instead of thinking about your body or shape changes due to breast cancer, focus on all the amazing things your body has done, can do, and will continue to do for you. Honour other people and spread positivity, because life is so much richer when you share your blessings, spread kindness, and become a beacon of hope.