A cancer diagnosis can have a significant impact on your body image.
“I hear a lot that people feel like their body has betrayed them,” says Angela Buttimer, MS, NCC, RYT, LPC, a licensed psychotherapist at Cancer Wellness at Piedmont. “Sometimes people feel at odds with their body after a diagnosis and don’t feel like themselves.”
Cancer treatments can also change the way the body looks and functions.
“I’ve heard so much from patients around that. They ask, ‘How am I going to be received after having this procedure?’” she says.
It also can affect couples.
“I work with many couples and have heard how their body image affects their intimacy,” says Buttimer. “Some people don’t want to be intimate because they feel self-conscious or like their partner won’t accept them. It can impact a marriage.”
She offers three practical ways to build a positive body image after a cancer diagnosis.
1. Practice gratitude for your body
“A big part of cancer recovery is loving your body,” she says. “In mindfulness, we talk about the idea that much more is right with us than is wrong with us. It’s really important to shine a spotlight on the things you like.”
Buttimer recommends starting this process by listing what you appreciate or value about your body.
This could look like:
“My body got me through chemo.”
“My body was resilient enough to walk me through radiation.”
“I’m still standing.”
“I walked into the hospital.”
“I appreciate my ability to see or hear.”
“The body is quite miraculous when we look at its functionality and not just its appearance,” she says.
2. Redirect negative thoughts
“If we are thinking something negative, it’s simply information,” says Buttimer.
She suggests approaching negative thoughts with curiosity by asking: Where did that thought come from? Was it from a parent, the television or an advertisement I saw?
Then, instead of trying to change the negative thought, redirect it by focusing on what you appreciate about your body.
3. Incorporate gentle exercise
Exercise can help you positively relate to your body, says Buttimer. She suggests trying:
“These classes can help you positively reconnect to your body,” she says.
Learn more ways to reduce stress and improve your well-being.