Dr Kgomosto Mzimba offers advice to help you accept and love your post-cancer self.
Life after cancer
Post-cancer treatment can be a confusing time for some patients. It can be a time filled with relief and hope but also a time filled with worries and concerns about whether the cancer may come back.
In this time patients will realise the full extent of the changes that have occurred in their life due to the cancer and the treatment of the cancer. These changes are not only physical but also psychological and social.
The physical changes, of course, being the ones that affect the patients the most. Depending on the type of cancer and the treatment course, the patient may experience minor to drastic changes in their physical appearance. Sometimes these changes can be so debilitating that they begin to affect them emotionally and affect social interactions.
Effects of changes post-cancer treatment
For a breast cancer patient, it may be losing a breast, or breast tissue. For most women, this is a symbol of their femininity and sexuality.
Some may feel that they are missing a part of who they were. It’s often difficult for them to engage in any form of intimacy with their partners. This change begins to affect their relationship.
Losing hair post-chemotherapy is the one thing most patients dread the most. Society’s ideals of beauty emphasise so much on the importance of having a good head of shiny healthy hair. For some, hair holds a very important cultural significance, and so losing their hair is harder to accept as their hair has a symbolic meaning.
Getting back some form of normalcy
Although it may not be easy, here are a few tips to help you adjust to your new life and begin the journey of accepting who you are post-cancer treatment.
1. Have a good support system
Your family and close friends have probably been a part of your journey from the beginning. From the initial news and shock of the diagnosis, to the countless medical appointments and treatments. They have seen you at your worst and at your best.
In this time of post-cancer treatment, their care and support is still essential as it was in the beginning. Author, S Kelley Harrell, once wrote, “We don’t heal in isolation but in community.” Your family and loved ones can provide you with love, warmth and a positive energy that you can feed from.
If you are not part of a support group already, now would be a great time as ever to be part of one. Support groups are important because you are surrounded by like-minded people who have a shared experience. It might be easier to share your stories, be vulnerable and, in turn, be encouraged but also encourage those around you.
2. Make peace with the new you
As with any changes that occur in your life that aren’t necessarily related to cancer, it takes time to adjust and to become accustomed to the changes.
You may look in the mirror and not recognise the person that is staring back at you. Perhaps there were certain aspects about your physical appearance that you took pride in. For example, your hair that you have now lost. Don’t allow your mind to be consumed by the negative. Rather look in the mirror and focus on the positive aspects and the new aspects of your physical appearance and personality that you would like to embrace.
3. Exercise, exercise and a little more exercise
An old-age tale that never grows old. We have all heard this numerous times from doctors. But, I’ll take this opportunity to put even more emphasis on it.
Incorporating a good and healthy lifestyle is not only essential for your physical health but also your emotional and mental health as well. Eating well will not only help you feel good inside but this will help you regain strength in your recovery process.
Exercise is great because it not only helps you stay in shape and lose some of the weight you may have gained, due to the side effects of some of the medication you have taken or are still taking. It’s also key in supplying your body with all the good endorphins which aid in healing, help to relieve pain and keep you feeling positive.
As difficult as it may be, there will come a time in which you need to accept that this is a different version of yourself, not a completely different person. Herein lies the beauty, that you can still be the best version of yourself, even if it’s a different form. The most important aspect when it comes to accepting your post-cancer self is accepting that you are a survivor. Wear your scars proudly.
Breast Cancer Care (2013) Your body, intimacy andsex, London: Breast Cancer CareMacmillan Cancer Support (2013) Body image andcancer, London: Macmillan Cancer SupportMaking Peace with Your Body Post Breast Cancer
MEET THE EXPERT – Dr Kgomotso Mzimba
Dr Kgomotso Mzimba is a primary oncology care physician/survivorship specialist. She did her undergrad at UCT and post-graduating she spent time working at Helen Joseph Hospital Breast Clinic. She currently works at Netcare Milpark Breast Care Centre of Excellence.