Bowel cancer

Body image and self confidence

Bowel cancer

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Cancer and cancer treatments can cause changes that affect how you feel about your body. This is called your body image. Having cancer can also affect your self-confidence.

Changes to body image

How we think and feel about our body is important. This is called body image.

Concerns about body image are common in people affected by cancer. This is because cancer and cancer treatments can change how your body looks, works and feels.

These changes can include:

  • hair loss
  • weight loss or gain
  • scars or the loss of a body part after surgery
  • skin and nail changes
  • looking tired and washed out.

Some of the feelings you may have include:

  • grief and sadness about the changes to your body
  • concern or embarrassment about how your body looks
  • feeling unattractive
  • fear of how the changes will affect your relationship
  • anger that your body has let you down and isn’t the same
  • fear of what other people will think.

Most changes are temporary, occurring while you are having treatment. Some, such as the loss of a body part or surgical scars, are permanent. You will need time and help to adjust to these changes. 

Changes to self-confidence

Some people gain self-confidence from their achievements, work, income, and position in their community. Others get it from being involved in sport or social activities. People’s looks, health and relationships also affect their self-confidence.

A cancer diagnosis and treatment can change these things:

  • You may have feelings of loss of control.
  • There may be times when you find it difficult to think and make decisions.
  • You may worry about changes to your body, how it looks and works.
  • You can feel more emotional or angry.
  • Side effects like fatigue and nausea can make you feel ill, or stop you doing things you enjoy.
  • Your relationships with your partner, family, friends and work colleagues may also change.

These things are normal following a cancer diagnosis but they can affect your self-confidence.

Changes after bowel cancer

Many people have concerns about their body image following bowel surgery, particularly if they need to have an ileostomy or colostomy. It can help to talk to someone you trust about how you feel. A bowel care nurse or cancer nurse will be able to help and advise you.  If needed, they will refer you to a social worker or clinical psychologist. 

Other people can have problems dealing with changes to way the bowel works. You may have diarrhoea following treatment and find that you have trouble controlling bowel motions. Sometimes it may be difficult to ‘hang on’ to go to the toilet. If this happens you can become concerned about being too far from a toilet.

Talk to your doctor or nurse about how to manage these changes. You may need to change your diet to help your bowel work as normally as possible.

You may be interested in support groups with the Cancer Council 13 11 20 or Bowel Cancer Australia 1800 555 494. People often find it helpful to talk to others who have been through similar situations.

Managing body image and self-confidence

Things that may help include:

  • Give yourself time to adjust.
  • Keep active and have a healthy lifestyle.
  • Spend time with family and friends, and doing activities you enjoy.
  • Take part in a free workshop by the Look Good Feel Better program.

Most people find it helpful to talk to someone about how they feel. Your doctor or nurse can refer you to see a social worker or psychologist.

There are also organisations that provide information and support, including:

  • Cancer Council 13 11 20
  • Canteen (for young people from 12 to 25 years) 1800 835 932.

Where to get help

There are people you can talk to for more information or support.

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