Self-image and cancer treatment

PDF download is not available for Arabic and Urdu languages at this time. Please use the browser print function instead

Cancer can change the way your body looks and the way you feel about it. Read about ways that may help you cope with changes in how you feel about your body.

Key points

  • It is normal to feel sad or distressed about changes in your body, while others may gain new confidence and appreciation for their body.
  • You will need time to adjust to changes in your body and cope with how you feel.
  • Being physically active can help you improve self-confidence as well as improve strength, endurance, flexibility and balance.

You might feel differently about your body after cancer and treatment. Some teenagers say that they lose confidence in their body or feel weak or unattractive. It is normal to feel sad or distressed about this. Other teens with cancer gain new appreciation for their body and its abilities or are inspired to make healthy changes in their habits.

However your body changes, it is normal to need time to adjust so that you can build a positive self-image. Here are some ways to cope with changes in how you feel about your body.

  • Give yourself time to grieve losses and adjust to how your body looks now.
  • Take care of your body by getting enough sleep and eating healthy foods. This will build your energy and help you cope. It will also give you a sense of control.
  • Try to talk with a friend or someone you trust about how you feel.
  • Try talking and reaching out to others who have had cancer in your community or online.
  • Avoid comparing yourself to others – you are an individual!
  • Be kind to yourself! When you hear yourself thinking or saying something bad about yourself, stop! Make a point to say or think of three things that are good about yourself each day.
  • Spend time with people who accept you for who you are. Being around people who care for you can help you adjust to changes more quickly.

Get moving

Being active can help you explore new talents and skills and experience success. Learning a new exercise or activity can help improve your self-confidence. So too can noticing that your strength, endurance, flexibility or balance are improving. This will play a big part in self-image.

If there are activities that you used to enjoy but now find difficult, try an altered version that requires less effort or try something completely new. The key with exercise is to ‘start low and go slow’. Once you are able to exercise at a certain level for a few days, you can try to very gradually increase what you do. Even though it might seem like you aren’t seeing much progress at first, you will be amazed at how much more you are able to do and how much better you will feel in just a few weeks. The physiotherapist on your team can help with some suggestions. You will learn more about ways to be active and exercise in the section on Staying active.

Last updated: September 3rd 2019