Loving Our Body After Breast Cancer
April 1, 2021
In the ground-breaking, spoken-word poem, To This Day, poet Shane Koyczan captivated audiences with his raw, powerful take on the impact of words. Specifically, “words” in the context of bullying. The old adage of “sticks and stones” no longer holds true. Words matter. Choose kindness. There is perhaps no greater need, then, for us to heal, to find strength, and to see the beauty in change when we speak to ourselves. The words we use and the way we perceive our body after breast cancer hold real power. We are either our own biggest bully or our biggest ally. In the poem, he states:
...if you can't see anything beautiful about yourself
Get a better mirror
Look a little closer
Stare a little longer
Because there's something inside you
That made you keep going.
Learning to love our body during and after breast cancer takes courage. It also takes kindness, compassion and time. It’s important to remember that there is only one of us — we are truly unique — and that’s special! We believe that together, we can find positivity faster — choosing to love our self, our body, and what they are both capable of along the way. See how here.
We Can’t Hate Ourselves Into Health
Writer and breast cancer survivor, Lissa Poirot, shares that learning to see her body after surgery was more difficult, even than the surgery itself. In her blog, she writes, “I didn’t want to see (my body) and spent all of my chemo months bundled up. It was winter, so I was lucky, but as summer came and the temperatures rose, I had to force myself to look at my body and make peace with it.” Breast cancer puts our body through so much. Weight gain, premature aging, hair loss, stress and scaring, surgeries and post-treatment side-effects can leave us in poor shape, both mentally and physically. But we cannot hate ourselves back to health. The first step, as Lisa shares, is acceptance. These feelings we have about our changing body are normal. Once we begin to gracefully accept what we’ve been through and acknowledge how extraordinary our body is to have endured it, only then can we begin the next step.
Begin in Neutral: Body-neutrality vs Body-positivity
Instantly adopting a new mindset of body-positivity can feel overwhelming and frankly, is as likely to happen as winning the lottery on a bad day. We would never stand before our friends and loved ones and espouse toxic positivity knowing how hard breast cancer recovery can be. But a mindset shift can have powerful and positive impacts on our health. That’s why it can help to begin in neutral rather than leaping head-first into radical self-love. A step up from shame, body-neutrality seeks to put a bit of breathing room between how we’re feeling about our body, the changes we’re encountering, and the overwhelming emotions that come with them. It’s not asking ourselves to love the way we look or feel about our current state. It’s more about being present and being grateful for what we do have. We’re here. We’re OK. It’s OK to be just OK, today.
Grounding Techniques: The Rule of Three
Learning to see ourselves — scars and all — is part of the process of healing, yet it can also be painful and triggering at first. When seeing our body in the mirror, it’s normal to feel a mixture of emotions such as sadness, grief and unease. Grounding techniques, a well-known coping strategy many health experts recommend, can help to immediately connect us with the present and reduce feelings of panic.
When feeling down about our appearance, we recommend grounding ourselves with lists of three (and keep them positive!):
Three words that describe our personality: Joyful. Powerful. Resilient.
(List yours below)
Three things we are good at: Family. Work. Running.
(List yours below)
Three things we love about ourselves: Style. Great Smile. Strong.
(List yours below)
Stacking the Odds in Our Favor
We’re not always up for finding the “silver lining” or trying to be optimistic. We all have rough days. But there are real reasons for aspiring to love our body again after breast cancer. Studies have shown that a poor self-image can become a barrier to healing. For women recovering from breast cancer, our emotional well-being is very much tied to our physical well-being. Everything counts when it comes to our health. A bad case of the blues? Experts suggest a short burst of intense exercise can blow it out of the water. Bad day at work? Don’t let it make the day worse — instead counter it with a special self-care day. (Pampering ourselves is now medically necessary! There, we said it.) Sexy lingerie helps us feel more feminine, connect with our bodies and see the beauty in our appearance once again. Dermal fillers and breast-cancer specific beauty companies now offer new treatments that can counter the impacts of chemotherapy and the damage our skin has been through. If it makes us feel better, why not? Check out the look good, feel better community to learn more.
Our body has carried us through this journey — protecting us, guiding us, and sheltering our spirit. There is true beauty in that. We haven’t arrived without wear and tear. The scars we carry are testament to the strength within us. Learning to love our body again starts here. Looking within, loving ourselves and seeing our journey through to the end is not only brave, it is beautiful.
“Say nice things about your body, dress it up, and take it out. Give it hot sex, luxurious baths, and massages. Move it, stretch it, nourish it, hydrate it, pay attention to it — The better our bodies feel, the happier and more productive we are.” ― Jen Sincero,