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Cancer and Self-Image
Sometimes illness can alter your appearance. The side effects of cancer treatment, and cancer itself, might make you look different than your ‘old self.’ This takes a little getting used to. On top of not feeling well right now, you might not be feeling good about yourself. Caring about your appearance and looking your best can improve your self-image. Feeling good about yourself promotes self-esteem under any circumstance, but especially when you are ill. A good self-image might also help you feel more empowered and give you an overall sense of well-being.
Image Enhancement Services at CTCA
At Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA), it is our mission to bring you total care and support as we help you fight cancer. We understand that hair loss, and changes to the skin and body, can be upsetting side effects of cancer and cancer treatment. In an effort to address these issues, we established image enhancement services at our hospitals. Our goal is to help you find ways to look and feel your best, and thereby reduce stress and improve your overall quality of life.
Plastic and Reconstructive Support
The surgical oncologists at CTCA work with our team of plastic and reconstructive surgeons to consult with you prior to cancer surgery.
In many cases, our plastic surgeons perform restorative procedures immediately following, or during, your surgery.
Cosmetic Image Enhancement
The cosmetic image enhancement services at CTCA assist both women and men who are undergoing radiation and chemotherapy with appearance and body image issues. Our team will help you prepare for hair loss and other cosmetic changes that may occur with cancer treatment. We have developed classes and seminars for you, your family, and community members, as well as beauticians, cosmetologists and salon personnel. Classes cover a variety of topics, including the connection between looking good and feeling better and image enhancement techniques.
Feeling Good About Yourself
The following are some suggestions for feeling good about yourself during cancer treatment:
- Continue your routine grooming activities (i.e., wear make-up, fix your hair, shave, etc.), even if you are confined to bed
- Consider purchasing a wig or scarf for hair loss
- If you have lost or gained weight, make adjustments to your wardrobe
- Pamper yourself when you feel well enough (i.e., get a manicure, pedicure, facial, massage, etc.)
- Try to fit in some type of exercise daily (if you feel up to it and if your doctor permits) – do not try to do too much too soon
- Get plenty of rest – do not push yourself too hard, if you are tired, take a break
- Keep up with your dental hygiene
- If you are physically able, take part in activities outside of your home
- Do not get discouraged – as you heal, you will feel and look increasingly better
Coping with Hair Loss
Some cancer treatments damage hair follicles, causing you to lose some or all of your hair. However, hair loss is variable. Some patients experience hair loss, while others do not (even with the same treatments). If you do experience hair loss, it usually begins within two weeks of starting therapy, and gets more severe one to two months after the start of therapy. It is normal to feel distressed about hair loss. It helps to understand why it happens, and to know that in most cases, hair will grow back. Sometimes hair re-growth begins even before therapy is complete.
The following are some suggestions for how to cope with hair loss during cancer treatment:
- If you think you might want a wig, get it ahead of time (a wig shop should be able to match your hair color and texture)
- Consider cutting your hair short
- Turbans, scarves, or hats can be alternatives to wigs
- Use mild shampoos, and don’t dye or perm your hair
- Be gentle when shampooing and brushing your hair (i.e., use a wide-toothed comb)
- Avoid too much heat (e.g., electric rollers, hair dryer, or curling iron)
- Wear a hair net at night, or sleep on a satin pillowcase, to keep hair from coming out in clumps
Learn More: Image Enhancement Tips
For helpful tips on improving your self-image as you cope with cancer, read our May 2007 newsletter, featuring the role of self-image in cancer. To subscribe to our free monthly e-newsletter, visit the CancerCenter Newsletter Sign Up page today.