Self-image is the perception of how one views oneself. A person’s self-image is usually affected by his or her:
The cancer diagnosis brings with it a great deal of changes to many aspects of a person’s life, particularly in terms of physical looks, relationships, roles, responsibilities and spirituality. These may lead to changes in the person’s self-image, whether positive or negative.
Causes of changes to self-image
Cancer treatments may change the way you look, and this can affect your feelings and thoughts about your own physical body; in short, your body image. You may feel self-conscious about these changes, which can include:Hair loss Weight gain or loss Scars from surgery Rashes or skin changes from treatments Loss of limbs or body parts Having an ostomy (a surgical opening over the abdomen that allows bodily waste to exit the body into a bag) Fatigue or loss of energy, which can cause you to give up activities you once enjoyed Following treatment, some of these changes may dissipate over time and eventually resolve, although some may be long term and will take time to get used to.
Cancer treatments may change the way you look, and this can affect your feelings and thoughts about your own physical body; in short, your body image. You may feel self-conscious about these changes, which can include:
Following treatment, some of these changes may dissipate over time and eventually resolve, although some may be long term and will take time to get used to.
Our self-confidence is closely linked with our physical appearance, the self-worth we derive from the roles we play in our lives, as well as the affirmation we receive from people who are important to us. Due to the physical changes mentioned above, some of us may feel unattractive to others and to ourselves, or feel a lower sense of worth due to the changes in roles we play. This can result in feelings of sadness, anxiety, fear, anger, shame and loss of control.
The ripple effects from physical and emotional changes can impact how survivors relate to the people who are important to them (e.g. family and friends). Some may feel like they are no longer the same person as they were before the cancer diagnosis. There may be worries that their family and friends may be scared to be near them, or may not accept them because of their bodily changes. Conversely, family and friends may not have the courage, or may not know how to reach out to them out of fear of hurting them. Without open communication, this can result in emotional distancing between the person with cancer and his or her loved ones, leading to strained relationships.
Having cancer may also lead to changes in roles and responsibilities. For instance, a main breadwinner may have to stop work temporarily and lose income because of the need to undergo daily treatment; or fatigue from anticancer treatment may keep a homemaker from doing her usual cooking and marketing. In addition, loved ones would usually not want to burden the person with cancer with more stress, and may in turn take away some of his or her usual responsibilities. This may at times lead to low self-esteem, especially if the person with cancer feels that he or she is no longer able to contribute actively to the family.
Spirituality can be defined as one’s sense of peace, purpose, connection to others and beliefs about the meaning of life. For some, a cancer diagnosis can have a negative impact on their spirituality. They may start to question why this is happening to them at this point in their lives, or doubt their relationships with God and with others. The image they had of themselves might be shaken. Find out more about how to better manage this in the following section.
What you can do
Despite the significance of a cancer diagnosis, many people can and go on to live meaningful and fulfilling lives. These people often choose to have positive mindsets and communicate openly to their loved ones on their challenges and needs. They accept their challenges and are open to receive help from their loved ones and care team. Here are some tips to help you feel better about yourself, and build a healthy self-image:
Taking care of your appearance
Emotional and spiritual care
When to call your cancer care team
Please inform your doctor or nurse if you feel that any of the abovementioned changes or problems are causing you distress.
If you are a patient with NCCS, you may also call
+65 6436 8417 to book an appointment to speak to an NCCS medical social worker if you need to talk to someone about your emotions.
If you have any questions regarding the above, please call Cancer Helpline at
+65 6225 5655 or approach your doctor or nurse for further details.
The above contents are made available as part of TEMASEK FOUNDATION-ACCESS (Accessible Cancer Care to Enable Support for Survivors) PROGRAMME, a holistic care programme to support cancer patients during their care and recovery journey.
The contents have been approved by the Cancer Education Information Service, National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS), for people with cancer and their families and caregivers. However, this information serves only as a guide and should not be used as a substitute for medical diagnosis, treatment or advice. For specific medical conditions, please seek expert medical advice from your healthcare team.
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