Coping With Emotions

After Breast Cancer: Learning to Love Your Body Again

Your body will change after breast cancer and that may make feeling confident and attractive difficult. Here are some easy ways to learn to love your body again and overcome your anxieties.

If you’ve undergone treatment for breast cancer, chances are your breasts aren’t the same as they were before. Your chest may be altered from your mastectomy, lumpectomy, chemotherapy or radiation. Even if you had breast reconstruction, they may still look and feel different.

The good news is, once treatment ends, your hair grows back and other bodily changes will stabilize as well. Though your breasts might be unlike before, you can learn to accept and love your new body.

Find Support

Support doesn’t mean a bra. It means friends and/or breast cancer survivors who can give you a hug and tell you you’re beautiful —because you are! Reach out to a group like the Cancer Survivors Network to meet others going through cancer treatment and get tips as well as empathy. Those who have experienced breast cancer can tell you what helped them feel better about their bodies.

Another resource is the Look Good Feel Better program through the American Center Society which has small sessions run by volunteer beauty professionals. They provide information on helpful skin-care products as well as wig and scarf use. When you feel your face and hair are attractive, you’ll start feeling better about the rest of your body too.

Bra and Bathing Suit Shopping

The idea of getting new bras and bathing suits after breast surgery or cancer treatment is tough. If you haven’t had reconstruction, your breasts might be misshapen or they may be completely removed. A visit to a specialty bra shop is helpful but you can find options online as well. Mastectomy and lumpectomy bras have hidden slots for natural looking breast forms which comfortable to wear after breast surgery. These bras look like the selections you’d find in a lingerie shop with many attractive styles. While the breasts under the bra might not be the same anymore, once the bra is on you’ll probably feel more normal and none will be the wiser.

Like with bras, a variety of mastectomy swimsuits are available, especially online, and they look just like regular swimsuits. They also have pockets to hold the breast forms, higher necklines, and good coverage in the armpit area.

Intimacy

There’s no reason you should avoid intimacy or feel less attractive after breast cancer. Lingerie doesn’t require breasts, though you can always get a top that’s slightly padded. The same types of things that made you and your partner feel good before cancer should work now: a bubble bath, a candle-lit dinner with champagne, the sense of touch. Relax and enjoy time together, and remember attraction isn’t just about breasts! If you’re just starting to get intimate again after cancer treatment, take it slowly and do what makes you feel attractive whether that’s putting on make-up or listening to music.

If you end up having troubles in the bedroom, Breastcancer.org recommends couples counseling to talk about your concerns and to help come to a sensible solution together. You may also want to look into if your medication could be affecting your emotions and sex drive. Talking about your anxiety about your sexuality alone or with a counselor can help.

It will take time to develop a new normal and for you to accept your post-cancer body. But you’re not alone. And you’re beautiful.

Learning how to cope with your body image issues during cancer can make treatment and remission more bearable. The UVA Cancer Center Flourish Boutique wants to help you do just that. If you would like attend a Look Good Feel Better session, please call 434.924.9333 to schedule.

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Deborah Abrams Kaplan
Deborah Abrams Kaplan