Cheryl Lecroy, a breast cancer survivor and Wellness Coach, shares her insights on overcoming body image challenges. She is a passionate writer, offering guidance and support to individuals facing similar journeys.
Challenges of negative body image after breast cancer diagnosis
When I was diagnosed with cancer, I struggled with a negative body image as I lived with one breast for over a year, then several years and several surgeries later until I reached the completion of my reconstruction process.
Over the last 12 years, working with breast cancer survivors, I have come to understand that a negative body image can happen with any degree of diagnosis, whether dealing with a partial, full, or prophylactic mastectomy. Whether reconstructed or flat. But also, for those who do not have breasts removed. For some, it is the loss of feeling secure in your own body or losing trust in the body’s ability to function properly.
The tendency to not feel like a whole person after a breast cancer diagnosis and intense feelings of loss can lead to a negative self-image.
Tools to re-gain a positive body image
Here are some of the things associated with a negative body image. (As shared by my clients over the years and some of which I’ve experienced as well)
Having a hard time looking at a photo of yourself.
Choosing loose clothing to hide your figure.
Feeling anxious when going to a social gathering.
Being uncomfortable in your body, especially with a shift in body shape and/or weight through treatment.
Feeling that people are staring at you, particularly at your breasts.
Developing a forward slump, to lean in to protect the area of the breasts.
Understanding and being authentic with exactly how you feel about your body is a first step to gaining or re-gaining a positive body image. If you are grieving, allow yourself to feel the grief without trying to mask it for others. If you are angry, it’s important to acknowledge the anger to get to acceptance.
Embracing self-love and acceptance
Give yourself time, feelings of loss can come in waves. Even when you think you are ok!
It is not as simple as flipping a light switch or saying, “I choose to have a positive body image”. It is a process with specific steps to take. Have a soft landing, a safe place, someone you can talk to who loves you unconditionally and will allow you to express exactly how you feel without judgement. A safe space to explore feeling of loss is integral to getting back to a positive self-image.
Here are some of the tools that can help you regain a positive body image:
Redirect negative thoughts with a chant such as “Cancel! Cancel! Cancel!”
Develop a set of words that you can repeat when you realize you are saying or feeling negative thoughts about your body.
Create and practice Affirming Statements about your body. Two goals here: 1. Focus on how functional your body is and what it does for your physical health and well-being. 2. Acknowledge and respect your body’s new unique qualities.
“I am whole and beautiful and choose to honor my new body as it continues to heal and support me.”
Make Self-Care a priority. (learn more HERE)
Take time in your day for a long hot bath.
Take time for a daily gentle walk in nature.
Make an appointment with a health coach at The After Cancer.
Start a gratitude journal.
Take a positive inventory of all the things you love about yourself and record them on the first page. Revisit often.
Invite a loved one to do the same. Read them out loud.
Record at least one thing each morning for which you are grateful.
Give yourself permission to NOT step on the scales every day in efforts to lose or gain weight.
Weight is not the end goal; a healthy attitude is the priority, how you feel and building a healthy immune system are the cues to follow.
Give yourself grace. Understand that you may sometimes have a bad day. You’re not going to fall off the proverbial wagon of doom. Each positive step forward is getting you closer to where you want to be, even if today is a hard day.
With practice and patience, soon you will be filled with self-love and seeing your beautiful essence in the reflection. Listen closely, she may be saying, “Hello Beautiful!!!!!”
With love and understanding,