The New You: Coping with Physical Changes after Treatment
Progress in the fight against cancer means more people are surviving this disease. It also means more people are dealing with the long-term physical changes that can come as a result of cancer treatments. From hair loss to the loss of a body part to the need for a medical appliance such as a colostomy pouch, some changes can present a physical and emotional challenge to cancer survivors. Knowing some effective ways to cope with these kinds of changes can help. With the right information and an open mind, you can find positive solutions to help you look better and feel better about the new you.
Coping with Hair Loss
Sometimes coping with physical changes from cancer is easier if you can talk to others who have “been there.” Fortunately, there is a resource that can help you do just that. The American Cancer Society Cancer Survivors Network® is an online community where you can share your story, connect with others, share practical tips, and find emotional support. Click here to learn more.
If you've lost some or all of your hair during treatment or if your hair is growing back post-treatment, there are several solutions you can use to enhance your appearance. A wig or a hairpiece may be a good choice for you, or you may prefer to use comfortable and attractive scarves or turbans to cover your head. You may need different head coverings or wig styles for different occasions, so shop around to find products that really work for you. Don't forget that some wigs and hairpieces may be covered by insurance, so talk to your doctor about getting a prescription. If you need help finding hair-loss related products or styling ideas, the American Cancer Society tlc –Tender Loving Care – Web site and catalog are excellent resources designed specifically to help people with cancer-related hair loss.
Solutions for Changes in Skin, Nails, and Facial Hair
As a result of your cancer treatment, you may lose more of your eyelashes and eyebrows, too. You may also have dry or sensitive skin from radiation, or brittle, grooved, or discolored nails from chemotherapy. Fortunately some basic cosmetics, tools, and techniques can go a long way to help you handle these changes. For example, working with makeup and a stencil can help you re-create the look of your natural eyebrows. Applying a simple moisturizer can help reduce the appearance of dry skin in places affected by radiation treatments. Wearing gloves while you wash dishes can protect your nails if they are sensitive or break easily after chemotherapy. These basic solutions help improve how you look – and your self-esteem. If you'd like even more expert advice on dealing with changes in your skin, nails, and facial hair, the Look Good…Feel Better® program offers cosmetic tips and techniques for people whose appearance has been affected by cancer. Learn more about the free program, which is a collaboration of the American Cancer Society, the Personal Care Products Council Foundation, and the Professional Beauty Association I National Cosmetology Association, on the Look Good … Feel Better Web site or contact the American Cancer Society to find out if there is an in-person beauty self-help session near you.
Whether you've had a breast removed or you have lost all or part of a limb, prostheses or artificial body parts can be a way to restore your full appearance and give you better functionality in your daily life. As with any cosmetic body enhancement, it's important to find a prosthesis that works well for you. Make sure your prosthesis fits correctly and comfortably. If you need adjustments to your prosthesis, work with a professional to make sure they are done correctly rather than handling them yourself.
Dealing with Ostomies
Coping with a colostomy or ileostomy can take patience and practice, but some simple tricks can help you feel better about your appearance with an ostomy pouch in place. For the most part, ostomy bags can be concealed under regular clothing, but you may want to empty the bag often to prevent it from bulging under your clothes. For more intimate moments, ask your nurse or doctor about pouch covers that look less medical, or try wearing a T-shirt or turning the bag sideways if that feels comfortable to you. You may also consider investing in a supporting belt or cummerbund that can cover the pouch. Remember that ostomies are a way to deal with an essential bodily function, and with the right tools in place, they need not be a source of embarrassment.
Whether you are dealing with a large physical change or a small one, don't be afraid to seek help for any physical appearance-related issues that are affecting you after treatment. After all, finding the right tools to help you cope with your cancer experience – now and in the future – is an important part of staying healthy.