Friday, 9 December 2016

Weekly Discussion Summary ~ Impact on Self Image

How does a breast cancer diagnosis impact on our body-image, self-esteem and sense of physical well-being?

The way in which we perceive our bodies has a significant impact on our personal and social well-being. As women, breasts constitute part of our femininity - the way we see ourselves and the way others see us, not only our partners, but the way we present ourselves socially and professionally.

There is good evidence to show that women diagnosed with breast cancer are less confident about their bodies and that our diagnosis and the impact of treatment carries significant implications for all aspects of our health.

We shared our varied experiences as a group - some of us had had a lumpectomy, others had had mastectomies, some of us had chosen not to have reconstruction, others had experienced complications, perhaps as a result of breast surgery, including failed reconstructions, recurrence and secondary breast cancer.

Our attitudes towards our breasts reflected our varied views about what our breasts meant to us as women, for instance, some of us were very comfortable with life after a mastectomy, and without reconstruction, whilst others described feeling a huge lack of confidence. It was clear that a loss of confidence about our body image undermined our sense of self-worth and 'other' worth in personal and social relationships.

Some women had been able to regain confidence as a result of reconstructive surgery, others had not. Some women had been able to regain their confidence as a result of supportive partners, whereas some partners had also found it difficult to cope with the changes in our bodies.

We all had in common an experience of a complete loss of our confidence in our bodies as a result of developing cancer and we shared our continued anxiety about whether we would remain well. The ongoing impact of challenging treatments on our bodies and health, including our sexual health, is often hidden from our loved ones - weight gain, pain, fatigue, hot flushes and vaginal dryness are just a few of the challenges some of us experience. All these symptoms have a significant impact on our overall health and well-being and for some, this was far more difficult to manage than the impact of breast surgery.

Naz told us that a lack of self-compassion and a tendency to depreciate ourselves is one of the biggest risk markers for depression. Isolation and being unable to share our concerns increases our vulnerability. We all shared how much we valued the support of the group and having a safe space to share our deepest fears and concerns.


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