Battling cancer is one of the most difficult things that a person can do. This horrific disease has a major impact on the patients’ lives, not only their physical and emotional state but also their relationship with other people, and the way they see and perceive the world and themselves.
Support from friends and family is crucial in this heartbreaking situation.
The treatment for cancer, chemotherapy has improved in recent years, giving a better fighting chance. Yet, it’s not without side effects.
A well-known and visible side effect is hair loss. Although it may seem like the smallest concern of a cancer patient, hair loss, especially for women can affect a lot their self-esteem and the way they are perceived by others.
We reached out to 40 therapists and psychologists and asked them to share their opinions on this topic. The question was:
What is the best way to feel confident in your body and in your partner while battling cancer?
We asked the experts to refer to women who deal with the side effects of chemotherapy (like losing their hair) and how that impacts their relationships with their life partner and their self-esteem. Keep reading to see what they had to say.
My husband and I are marriage coaches and I am a breast cancer survivor who went through chemo. Here are my suggestions:
Prepare yourself mentally for what will happen with hair loss. You not only lose the hair on your head, but also your eyebrows, underarms, legs, and even pubic hair.
I wasn’t prepared for that at all and it caught me by surprise as I had only thought about losing the hair on my head. The more you understand the realities, the better it can help you both emotionally.
My husband shaved his head in solidarity. I was grateful for his willingness to do that. (He then teased me that I put a wig on while he continued to go bald.) This action let me know that I wasn’t alone.
We moved lovemaking to nighttime for a season. This helped me feel less self-conscious.
Find things that help you accommodate the hair loss—a good wig, a pretty head wrap, a comfortable bamboo beanie, big earrings (if you decide to embrace the bald look).
Remind yourself that this is not forever. It’s now been nine years since my season of chemotherapy treatment. I’m cancer free and my hair has returned to what it was before. This too shall pass.
I had triple negative breast cancer with chemotherapy and radiation and lost my hair for a year.
As a dating coach and marital therapist, I have had Friday date nights with my husband for 18 years. Even though I was bald and lost all my hair and eyebrows and my toe nails were falling off, we continued to go out.
Sometimes I’d use liquid eyeliner and wear long earrings and it made me feel like an Egyptian priestess. It often felt too hot to wear a wig.
To feel beautiful and remind me of my spiritual journey I had someone do a henna crown on my bald head for a few weeks of a labyrinth.This reminded me I’d go on this winding path and end up in my center and that is the heroines path.
The experience also reminded me of my inner beauty and how that’s more powerful than outer vanity. I knew my husband still loved me and our connection went deeper than looks.
Some ways women can work on their confidence are to wear makeup, still dress up and go out, still love themselves and know they are sexy with or without hair.
They can do tapping (EFT YouTube videos) on self-esteem and confidence and can say affirmations about their beauty and worth. They can ask their partner to reassure them they are still beautiful and allow themselves to be held etc.
Many couples seek counseling because the stress levels and divorce rate is very high when one partner has a serious illness so communication and teamwork is very important too.
As a cancer survivor and as a coach to people going through a cancer journey, it’s essential to befriend, love, and partner with your body. Your body will guide you in what is right for you and your healing.
People are not statistics. We each heal differently but when it comes to cancer we must end any war that we have been in with our bodies. It’s also critical that you don’t identify as sick or dying.
See yourself as a miracle that has the power, capacity, and capability to heal, even the seemingly impossible.
Your body is talking 100% of the time. Listen. Honor your body. Give it what it’s asking for whether it’s rest, holistic healing, nutrition, sleep, water, relaxation, or whatever else it’s telling you it needs.
Your body isn’t the problem when it comes to cancer, it’s the solution. It wants to heal. It can heal. You haven’t caused cancer, but you and your body, together, can heal cancer.
See cancer as an opportunity to begin the greatest love affair of your life with yourself and your precious and gorgeous body.
I was diagnosed with cancer while I was 7 months pregnant. I was told to prepare my will and that my odds of beating stage 3 melanoma were slim.
I decided that I would live like I was going to live, dying wasn’t an option even though I knew that could be how the story ended. But not if I could help it.
Live, even while you face cancer and the physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental pain that goes along with cancer. Let cancer become the beginning of your story.
Let cancer allow you to finally own your power and the power that lives in your body. There is life on the other side of cancer if you will be brave enough to live like you are going to live, in the perfect body that you have.
What is the best way to feel confident in your partnership while battling cancer?
The first relationship that gets impacted by cancer is the one with yourself. When I was going through chemo I ended up losing some of my hair and losing the use of my right leg.
Even worse than the physical issues, pain, and side effects from the chemo, was the loss of who I thought I was. I was no longer a successful mother, wife, business owner, community leader, sister, daughter, friend, athlete, or powerhouse.
All of the ways that I had been measuring success went out the window and I remember saying to myself, who are you going to be now? It’s easy to be your best when you’re living the life of your dreams, but who are you going to be now?
I decided to be someone who loved, honored, and respected myself, not because of what I could do or had done, but because I was still alive and had so much life left. My self worth has never been stronger, thanks to cancer.
My relationship with my husband grew and transformed beyond belief in the face of cancer. I was so worried about him seeing me differently, him not being able to handle what was happening, and I was terrified I would lose him because of this diagnosis.
My fears were so false. While it was terribly difficult to have to face each other in our darkest hour, he was going through cancer too.
We were honest about how we felt, what we needed, what our fears were, and what we thought the solutions could be.
Anyone out there wanting tips on how to keep your relationships strong during cancer just start by being honest with yourself and with the people you love. You don’t need to make it better for them.
You need to know you were real and that you gave those who love you a chance to show up and support you. And the friends that ghost you, they were never your friends.
You will get to see who is really worthy of being close to you in the face of cancer because those are the people by your side, not making it about them, making it about being there for you and your relationship.
Live changes forever because of cancer but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. You can’t stop cancer, but you can love your body, yourself, and those closest to you with all you’ve got trusting that you will get to the other side.
Believe you can. Or, suffer. You’ve been through enough. Meet the best of you and live as the best of you and after cancer, you truly become unstoppable.
Stephanie McLeod-Estevez – Creative Transformations
Cancer is so much more than a medical problem, it impacts every aspect of your life- your body, your mind, your spirit, and your identity.
Cancer tests your relationships in ways that you could have never predicted, putting a lot of pressure on you and the people you love.
When you’re in the thick of treatment, it’s hard not to just be in survival mode all of the time, but there are ways for you to feel better about your self-esteem and how you and your partner navigate it.
1. Recognize that carving even 5 minutes out of your day to just be with each other, free from distractions, will go a long way towards remembering that you are both in this together.
Try to set aside the stressors and feelings, and take time to greet one another intentionally- whether through holding hands, a warm embrace, or looking into one another’s eyes.
This conscious act can remind you, and your nervous system, that there are moments of quiet within the chaos of treatment.
Yes, we have to deal with the uncertainty that we’re facing, but also we can recognize that we are ok- even if it’s just for a moment.
2. There’s a lot of loss that comes with treatment, whether it’s the loss of your hair, the loss of your privacy, the loss of feeling safe and secure, and so on. This is a form of disenfranchised grief, and feeling it doesn’t mean that you’re not strong or grateful.
It’s important to be kind to yourself and your partner because you’re facing the four universal fears all at one time (the fear of dying, the fear of being alone, the fear of losing freedom, and the fear that life will lose its sense of meaning).
It’s ok if you’re struggling with that, which is why it’s so important to surround yourself with the people, the resources, and the providers who can support you and your partner through this time.
3. Take time to gently connect with your body, to take in what it’s going through, and sit with the temporary and permanent changes. This may be filled with a reckoning of how you’ve felt about your body, bringing up a lot of tender feelings.
Working through these feelings while also taking time to sit with how grateful we can feel will help you be more present with your body.
Updating your mental image to how you look now will also support you in coming to acceptance of where you are, giving you more energy to focus on what matters most.
4. Make room for microjoys, those sweet little moments in which we experience something that brings us joy. When I was going through treatment, I spent a lot of time noticing when I felt relatively ok. That helped me realize that my experience was variable, which was important.
5. Take time to notice what feels possible. This kind of mindfulness helps disrupt the anxious rumination because you are focusing on the here and now- not the future.
During chemo, I did what I could to continue my self-care activities, even if it meant spending a lot of time in a child’s pose during yoga class.
Margarita Sala – Sala Psychology
1. When negative thoughts about your body come up acknowledge them and then choose not to engage with them and focus your attention elsewhere.
2. Research has shown that practicing self-compassion can increase confidence. You can practice self-compassion via structured therapeutic exercises.
3. Remind yourself of all that your body is going through right now, and all the things that it can still do for you. Remind yourself of what your body has done for you.
4. Upgrade your body self-care during this difficult time. Perhaps this means putting on body lotion, a facial, a nice long relaxing bath.
5. Invest in a wig that makes you feel good. Wear clothes that make you feel good.
I know two women who went through chemo and lost their hair. Both of them kept repeating things like, “I come from a family of strong women. My grandmother was a migrant worker in Central California. I can do this!”
One saw her husband with tears running down his cheeks as he shaved the last of the hair off of his beloved wife’s head. Both demonstrated enormous courage in facing what they had to do to beat cancer and both of them had husbands who were so loving and supportive.
I know that isn’t true for everyone suffering the side effects of chemo. One of the women’s cancer has remained in remission.
The other’s cancer returned after five years and she eventually died a few years ago. She loved the Dodgers baseball team. Just last week 13 members of her family, me included, went to a Dodger game in memory of her birthday.
I have a sister who worked with hospice as a grief therapist for several years. She told me horror stories about how the stress of a terminal illness often widened whatever cracks were in the marriage, to begin with.
Sometimes the treatment of a spouse for a terminally ill partner is very dismissive rather than caring and supportive. Others have received compassionate support from their husbands.
Coaching for the husbands: Do your best to be with her when she wants you to be. Listen with empathy when she is feeling insecure and in pain.
Help in whatever practical ways you know would mean the most to her. Keep the house and bathroom clean because she’s not going to feel like cleaning.
Do the laundry for yourself and her…fresh sheets feel so good when one has been sweaty and laying in bed. Accept others’ help with meals or rides. PLUS, take some time off for yourself.
Caretaking is exhausting! Don’t feel guilty if a friend can be with her while you play a round of golf, or something else that refreshes you. Tell her often how beautiful she is to you!
Fighting cancer is not only a physical battle but an emotional one as well, tearing at your confidence and self-identity. It’s no easy task from a medical standpoint and spiritually, it’s even more daunting.
Which is why your mindset is essential when facing such an incredible challenge. Remind yourself that what you focus on increases and do your best to switch to only positive things, the parts of your life that still make you smile.
Don’t forget to do things that bring you joy, like reading your favorite romance novels during chemotherapy. Nibble on that dark piece of chocolate afterwards – I mean, it has antioxidants, right?
It’s important to continue to do things that give you pleasure because that in itself, will “refill your cup” and increase your happiness.
Happiness glows from the inside out and makes you feel more confident naturally, which is important on hard days, like when your hair starts to fall out. You need this spiritual boost, especially when life feels like it is beating you up.
Doing things that make you happy may seem like a trivial task and initially, you may want to put it on the back burner, but this will help alleviate the emotional pain of your battle.
Consider it making daily deposits towards a better life, while cancer is trying to drain your bank account. Every little bit helps tremendously, like compound interest.
So create a list of the things that make you smile and bring you joy, then try and do three of them a day. Focus on the things you can control and you’ll feel more empowered.
Nothing is sexier than confidence and the easiest way to get it, especially if you feel devastated emotionally, is by doing things that balance out the bad with truckloads of goodness.
For example, are you worried about the change in the coloring or texture of your skin? Allow your partner to give you a mini facial at home.
Not only will it make you feel amazing, but the physical intimacy between the two of you will only deepen your bond. And a good moisturizer will have you glowing again in no time!
The important thing to remember is that this is temporary. Below are some more simple recommendations to feeling more confident while battling cancer.
1. Hydrate! Chemo or radiation will dry out your skin, hair and nails. Combat this by drinking a lot of water each day and apply a thick moisturizer.
I recommend using a cream that has little to no perfume to avoid irritating sensitive skin. Why is a moisturizer so important?
Well, dry skin creates creases and makes fine lines look more pronounced – this being one of the more common complaints and reasons why someone might avoid the mirror. And don’t forget your nail cuticles!
2. Decrease puffy-causing foods like salt, processed meats and dairy. I’m not saying you have to eliminate them but cut down the servings.
Instead, consume more foods and drinks that help with bloating – such as avocados, cucumber, berries, celery, ginger, bananas, oatmeal, apples and green tea.
More natural and whole foods will be easier to digest as well, giving you more energy and helping with tiredness.
3. Avoid heavy makeup and use a light mineral powder instead. Creams and liquid foundation pull at the skin when applying and unfortunately, since chemo can make your skin thinner, this creates deep valleys for makeup to settle in.
Select a more airy approach. Mineral powder will help dull skin appear brighter and many brands offer a built-in sunscreen.
It’s also easier to apply, which is important for the days you feel tired but still want to do a semblance of your routine.
4. Dress for your new body. Many patients lose weight during cancer treatment, while others are on drugs that can cause the body to hold onto extra fluid.
Select clothing that flows and are a bit loose-fitting compared to what you would normally wear. This provides both comfort and helps to hide areas that you feel a little insecure about.
Punch things up a notch by wearing bright colors and fun patterns. You don’t have to dress in drab clothes or try to hide your body. If you start to lose your hair, accessorize with cute scarves or wigs.
Think of this as an opportunity to play dress up and try new styles. It can be traumatic, especially if a large part of your identity is associated with your locks but remember hair grows back.
As simple as that adage is, take some comfort in knowing it is a fact, rather than a mere possibility. Your hair will grow back.
5. Be open about your feelings with your loved ones and definitely don’t hide your insecurities with your partner. True intimacy comes from being vulnerable, especially when it is not easy to be open about your emotions.
Lean on your partner and don’t hide what you are going through. A deeper connection and bond can be formed, as well as wider understanding of what is happening. Why is the latter so important?
Well, cancer treatments can cause you to forget things or make it difficult to concentrate – which can make you feel insane on top of the stress and anxiety of dealing with a cancer diagnosis.
It’s always reassuring that you are indeed, not losing your mind on top of everything else.
Sira Mas – The Truly Charming
Cancer treatment can have a major impact on a woman’s self-confidence and self-image.
Something that can really help a woman feel better about herself during chemotherapy is learning to use makeup to enhance her eyes and lips.
In particular, since with cancer treatment, the temporary loss of eyelashes is a frequent side-effect, using an eyeliner can really help enhance the eye area.
Also, one of the most common side effects of chemotherapy is your lips may become dry; using a good lip balm can help moisturize lips, and using a good lipstick can help give your lips an extra pop of colour.
Another habit that can really help a woman feel more confident during cancer treatment is wearing her favorite outfits, the ones that truly make her feel beautiful, and doing it every single day.
Katelyn Carey – Beauty After Breast Cancer
1. Be kind to yourself. It is easy to see the things you lost, but intentionally picking a script that focuses on your strengths instead of your losses can be helpful.
Example: when I was coaching new moms to breastfeed, I gave myself a script of “I would rather be there for my children than breastfeed them”.
This helped me to focus on how my sacrifice and scars meant I would be more likely to be there for my kids at their weddings and many years after, those years gained were worth the loss of months of breastfeeding.
2. Jennifer said, “I lost my hair, I lost my periods, and I lost my breasts. Aren’t those all the things that make me female? What am I now?”.
Jenn found a confidence boost by doing a henna crown on her head after chemo hair loss, and doing body paint that made a spectacular costume for halloween with her daughter that next year. Little things can help, find the things (fabrics, paint, etc) that make you feel beautiful and use those tools.
3. Laura stated she was “horrified” the first time she saw her scars, but she began a practice of gratitude, and began thanking her body for the sacrifices it made.
She began to think of her body “as my hero, returning from a war that it fought for my life”. She was slowly able to step from loss to pride and strength.
4. Toni and her husband had a conversation about “what would make you comfortable touching me again”? He was afraid he would hurt her.
They eventually designed a tattoo together that incorporated symbols from their relationship. It’s beautiful…she’s beautiful, and the whole process helped them both regain their intimacy.
Changes in your body as a result of treatment are distressing and can seriously shake your self-confidence.
Instead of focusing on the hair loss, nausea, sore mouth, or bruises, focus on the non-physical aspects of your character and personality that are wonderful.
Think about why your partner fell in love with you and why your friends adore you; has this part of your character changed as a result of treatment? I bet it is mostly the same!
As you look at your body, challenge yourself to look at yourself and say something positive, i.e., “My eyes still sparkle and my smile is lovely.”
When you can, try to see your physical changes as a badge of honor; you’re a soldier fighting a war and the best soldiers have the most scars.
And of course, make sure to ask your partner for the reassurance you crave. Partners often feel that they’re not doing enough to support their loved one during their battle, so help them know how to best help you.
Remember: you are more than the sum of your parts. You are lovable and valuable no matter what physical changes you’re experiencing.
There are many ways in which you can support your partner during such difficult moments. Recently I met a cancer patient with her fiancé, who had apparently arranged this appointment.
Clearly he was supporting his wife-to-be in not just words but in take-charge actions.
I first tended to the cancer/chemo treatment patient own hair, underneath a scarf which she had worn into the salon, which I could see had fallen out in various clumps in different parts of her head.
Next was the wig’s makeover. It was “off-the-shelf” and i consulted with the client as to her personal style hair preferences.
Then I carefully trimmed/styled the wig, while it was on her head. And then she smiled. Her fiancé was by her side the entire time. They left the salon, holding hands.
Going through cancer is bad enough without having worry about how you look and worrying about how your partner feels about that.
It can be harder to feel good about yourself when you are not well and so doing where you can to feel better about yourself will help.
There are often wonderful services that specialise patients going through cancer and their whole goal is making sure you look and feel better. They cover hair, make-up, skincare, etc.
Here are a few simple tips to feel more confident:
You may not have been brave enough in the past to cut your hair off. I know that it is easy to hang on to a hair style you have always had but in my experience the older we get there are often more flattering options.
In fact, being stuck with the same hair styles is one of the biggest agers! If you are losing your hair or its thinning you have the perfect opportunity to take bold steps!
Take advantage of the opportunity to experiment and try things you might not have risked before! You can play with colour and short bold cuts.
Or have fun playing with different styles of wigs!You might be surprised just how much you enjoy your new look!
2. Weight loss or gain
Cancer often affects your weight and the clothes you have may no longer flatter your new body shape.
Don’t just put up with the clothes that don’t fit well or that when you wear them you don’t feel good. Time to go shopping for an updated look. Again, have fun experimenting with different styles.
Cancer treatments are harsh on your skin and you may find it ends up red and blotchy. There are plenty of skin calming treatments and you can also use green colour corrector to counteract the red.
4. Eeylashes and eyebrows
You may lose or have thinning eyelashes and eyebrows. There are plenty of products that will help you fix this.
Eyebrow pencils are great if you have lost your brows, there are temporary or even permanent tattoos. For your eyelashes you can get eyelash extensions or even magnetic fake eyelashes work a treat.
You may find your nails start to break or split. Keep them short and use some strengthening nail polish.
Finally, it may sound cliché but beauty is more than skin deep and often at difficult times your inner beauty and strength will shine brightly.
It is so much more beautiful than what is on the outside and your partner will see that.
Kimberly Schaffer – Attentive Psychotherapy
Initially, it can be a shock to view yourself in the mirror after cancer treatment. Your body may not feel or look like your own. It may seem as though a stranger is looking back at you in the mirror.
It takes time to get to know yourself again. You have been fighting for your life and this has taken all of your energy. Your partner has been by your side and helped you through some of your most difficult moments.
It can be difficult to reconnect with your partner when you feel insecure about your appearance.
Try to reconnect with your body first. Find clothing with fabrics that are comfortable and designs you find appealing. Look at your body and scars even though they may feel uncomfortable.
Over time, you will recognize yourself again and realize the courage and strength you have, which is the true definition of beauty.
The best way to feel confident in your body while battling cancer is to acknowledge that you are a fighter. Women are not frequently portrayed as warriors, so our minds do not always go there, but they should.
You can be beautiful, strong, and courageous while accepting that many of the side effects you see on the outside are temporary.
Although they are temporary, these side effects can be quite upsetting. Try to remember hair tends to grow back, wounds start to heal, and swelling dissipates.
Your partner was there for you throughout treatment and they love you for who you are as a person.
Jessica Brohmer – LMFT
Comparison is the biggest obstacle to confidence. And that includes comparing your current body to the way it used to be, look, or feel.
It’s hard to look in the mirror and see yourself without hair, with big scars, without breasts, or with radiation tattoos. Even when your hair grows back, it often comes in a new color and texture.
The way to fight comparison is through acceptance. Your body is the way it is, and it won’t change back just through regret.
Acceptance is hard to face because it means looking at your body just the way it is and choosing to let go of your old hair, your scar-free body, and your old figure.
Gratitude helps you on the way to acceptance. Maybe your hair is gone, but you can choose to express gratitude to the friend who gave you a beautiful headscarf.
Or maybe your body now has permanent scars, but those can be reframed as signs of your strength as you fight the battle against cancer.
Losing breasts can feel like losing your outward femininity, but you can look for other ways to express your womanhood that are also true to who you are.
Relationships are more difficult. It’s one thing to look in the mirror and feel disappointed in your new body, but it is devastating to hear that your partner (who isn’t even going through cancer!) is also struggling with your appearance.
You want your partner to be supportive, but after hearing about all the women who were abandoned in the middle of treatment (20%!), it’s tempting to settle for a partner who only grumbles from time to time. But getting your confidence back might mean confronting a partner who’s too critical.
You can’t do the work of rebuilding your self-esteem when the person who’s supposed to be closest to you is tearing it down at the same time.
Tina Marie Del Rosario – Healing Collective Therapy
Hair and weight loss and overall changes in general appearance is a significant challenge to our self-esteem.
During these challenging times, it is important to focus on the deeper connection you have with your partner and recognize what your partner values in you.
Having conversations with your partner about what they see in you besides aesthetics can be helpful.
Although it is difficult to refrain the internal narrative associated with self-esteem, embracing and leaning into all that your
Sam Holmes – Feel and Thrive
As a woman, your self-esteem is strongly intertwined with how you see yourself in the mirror. Going through major physical changes can leave you feeling insecure and unworthy of love.
These feelings can negatively impact your mental health and threaten the foundation of your relationship with your partner.
The best way to feel confident is to practice self-compassion.
Self-compassion takes a different approach from traditional efforts to raise self-esteem and self-confidence. Instead of looking outward for validation, self-compassion is a way of relating to yourself.
While self-esteem is about how good you feel about yourself in relation to others’ opinions of you or how you evaluate yourself against others, self-compassion is accepting, loving, and forgiving yourself when you’re faced with difficult circumstances.
Research shows that self-compassion is associated with greater and more consistent feelings of self-confidence and self-worth. This is because self-compassion isn’t dependent on external factors like physical appearance.
Aim to be kind to yourself. Don’t be harsh or self-critical as you’re undergoing treatment, experiencing side effects, and undergoing physical changes.
Strive to treat yourself as you would a dear friend going through the same situation. This shift in mindset will also allow you to be more confident in your partner.
You’ll be able to take them on their word that they love you and are there to support you. You won’t second guess their actions or allow insecurity to cloud your judgment.
Claudia Cox – Text Weapon
One of the best ways to remain confident and comfortable in your relationship is to focus on self-care and things that are within your control.
Speak to your healthcare provider about opportunities to stay active – for example download a new yoga app and try a class together or ask your partner to join you for a romantic walk and spend an afternoon together lost in nature.
Besides the opportunity to experience something uplifting together, movement may improve your mood, give you strength and make you feel more empowered.
Another way to remain confident is to be very in tune with your self-talk and the way your partner speaks about your struggles. Be open with your partner about any insecurities you may have. Communication is key.
If your partner is making comments that upset you, let them know. Now is the time to treat yourself with compassion, the same way you would treat a loved one going through a similar circumstance.
This means that you should be clear about which social activities you are comfortable participating in and which activities you need to skip (at least for now).
Drake Ballew – Practice Health
Try to remember that your partner loves you for who you are, not your outward appearance.
Even if your appearance changes due to chemotherapy, you are still the same person your partner fell in love with.
Of course, it can be stressful and upsetting to have no control over such things as hair loss, weight loss, or other changes to how you look and feel.
The best thing a partner can do is to continue to treat you with care and compassion, and to help you realize that you are still attractive to them.
Indigo Stray Conger – Mile High Psychotherapy
The two most common treatments for cancer (chemo and radiation) can have devastating effects on strength, health, physical appearance, and sexual function.
While the stress of cancer treatment can be all consuming, it’s important to educate yourself on the effects that your specific treatment may have on you and what you can do to feel stronger, healthier, and more like yourself.
Hair loss is one of the most well-known side effects of both chemo and radiation and can be counteracted with a “cooling cap.”
Though relatively new and often expensive, this effective intervention may be worth it if you want to keep your gorgeous locks.
Muscle atrophy is another common side effect of both cancer itself and cancer treatment.
The sooner you are able to work with a physical therapist during or after your treatment regimen the less impactful muscle weakness will be on your ability to function, returning you to feeling strong, capable and confident.
Chemotherapy significantly affects hormones and libido, changing your desire for sex and potentially bringing on early menopause. Sexual funtion may also be impacted by cancer treatment.
Radiation in the pelvic area can damage blood vessels, nerves, and muscle function.
While oncologists are more well-versed than they used to be on the sexual side effects of cancer treatment, you may have to advocate for more comprehensive information and for a referral to a pelvic physical therapist.
A pelvic physical therapist can help keep temporary changes from becoming more permanent. Sexual function is an important aspect to feeling confident, healthy, and more like yourself.
Kevin Coleman – Connected Therapy Practice
Feeling confident in your body and feeling attractive while battling cancer is very difficult, and this can place a significant emotional toll on your relationship.
Cancer changes our bodies in ways we never expected, and it can be hard to be in a romantic relationship while going through something so traumatic.
However, when you struggle to feel attractive, remind yourself that attraction in a committed relationship is not just about the physical parts of your body, it’s about your entire person.
In a long-term relationship, your partner will inevitably go through some bodily changes too, probably as they age, but you’ll still be attracted to them because their body is just the case that their personality is in.
Remember that your worth is so much more than your physical appearance, that your partner may be just as attracted to you as before, and that the experience can bring you closer together as a result.
Stephanie Crouch – Bay Area Therapy for Wellness
Communication with our partners is key; facing our partners and sharing with them how we feel about our bodies is the first step to shining a light on the shame we are feeling so that it is not able to continue to grow.
Shame becomes weaker and weaker every time we talk about the things that we are feeling shame for. Allow your partner space to show up for you and offer comfort and reassurance.
By having these discussions, especially about confidence and confidence in the bedroom, you’re opening a dialogue with your partner that shows that you continue to care and still prioritize the relationship with them.
Brainstorm ways with your partner on how to create a new spark (maybe get some fun wigs that you wouldn’t typically wear to spice things up), talk about alternative ways to be intimate and discover a deeper understanding of what intimacy means for both you and your partner.
If you’re feeling uncomfortable about certain parts of your body, explore specific lingerie that would boost your confidence.
At the end of the day, communication with your partner is key to air out concerns, allow them to boost your confidence and be there for you and explore alternative options to spice things up and have intimate time together.
Dr. Tara Suwinyattichaiporn – Luvbites
You can gain confidence through three types of activities: cognitive, somatic, and mindfulness.
The first cognitive exercise is journaling. Write one amazing thing about you and your body down every day. This will remind you that you are a wonderful human and there are many great things about you.
You can also start exchanging weekly adoration letters. These are short (few sentences) letters that you can write to each other explaining why they’re so great.
The second exercise is through somatic movement.
As much as you can, dance! move your body around, move your arms, your head, and other body parts that allow movement while listening to your favorite women empowerment music (my favorite is Beyonce).
This is a part of somatic confidence.
Lastly is a sensual mindfulness exercise. You can do solo and couple’s meditation. Focus on building inner confidence with the solo one and focus on building a connection with the couple’s one. You can find lots of guided meditation on YouTube.
Jess O’Reilly – Sex With Dr. Jess
Cancer treatments can take a toll on your body — in terms of function, energy levels, sexual response, feelings of dis/connection, and more.
Many attribute feeling disconnected from their bodies to the strain (and trauma) associated with probing, testing, prodding, and other medical procedures required throughout diagnosis and treatment.
You don’t have to feel 100% confident in your body at any point in your life — especially after a cancer diagnosis. It’s common to feel as though your body has let you down.
However, you can look for ways to reconnect with your body, feel more neutral toward your body, and/or feel more confident in your body. Here are a few guidelines to consider:
1. Give yourself permission to embrace pleasure.
When you derive pleasure from your body — from movement, touch, exercise, stretching, dance, or eroticism — you’re more likely to feel connected to it and more comfortable in your skin.
So look for multiple sources of pleasure in your body — not just sexual pleasure, but physical pleasure, spiritual pleasure, or intimate pleasure. You deserve a rich quality of life, beyond survival, and this includes pleasure.
2. Be selfish (in a good way).
Focus on your own comfort and pleasure first. Oftentimes, when we’re stressed about changes in our sex life (e.g. loss of libido, pain with penetration, exhaustion, and stress), we focus on our partner’s needs and how our experience is affecting them.
But if we begin with our own needs and our own pleasure first, changes are often easier to navigate. Touch yourself for pleasure (e.g. give yourself a hand massage).
Ask a loved one to support you with a massage or by performing small errands that give your body a break.
Invest and indulge in things that feel good for your body (e.g. going to the spa, taking a yoga class, cancelling plans and staying home to stretch, eating your favourite foods).
3. Update your feed.
If you spend time on social media, start following accounts that depict all types of bodies enjoying life.
If you follow mainstream accounts, you may only be seeing curated images of one body type, which can affect your own expectations and body confidence.
By broadening the images you consume, you’ll likely broaden your expectations and gain a new appreciation for all types of bodies.
Susan Harrington – Maison Vie New Orleans
Chemotherapy has been long known for the physical effects (e.g., hair loss, weight loss, exhaustion, neuropathy, memory loss, and early menopause) it has on women.
However, the psychological effects, like anxiety and depression, or for some, post-traumatic stress or suicidal thoughts, take a serious toll on the person’s sense of self and connection to others, becoming longer-lasting struggles.
The assurance of connection with those we care for is the single strongest stress-reducing and recovery-promoting aspect of human existence that has been identified thus far.
Chemotherapy tends to exaggerate our psychological weaknesses, like anxiousness or insecurity, as we become more physically taxed by the treatment. These weaknesses play out in our interpersonal relationships.
For example, if I am someone who has asked for assurance from my significant partner in the past, then being diagnosed with cancer and now experiencing the physical effects of treatment, I am much more likely to need to hear frequent affirmations, encouragements, and assurances in my belief that it will calm my anxiety and insecurity.
My partner may feel pressured to supply them before I ask and/or feel frustrated with the necessity to provide assurances so they work towards avoiding instances when they have learned I will likely ask. Quite a conundrum for this very stressed relationship.
Many aspects of a significant committed relationship begin feeling this distress before treatment has even been completed and could continue to struggle with the effects well after treatment concludes. That’s because, when left unaddressed, it tends to negatively affect the relationship’s intimate life, too.
Cancer typically means surgery, surgical scars, and sometimes, removal of parts of a woman’s body. These changes, visible or not, emotionally and mentally matter. She knows they are missing, and her partner does as well.
Questions begin building in her mind like skyscrapers reaching for the clouds. The truth of each metaphorical floor presents symbolically as:
- How can you still love me? (unlovable)
- How can you even look at me? (unattractive)
- I don’t want to be around people. (unwanted)
- I’m not me anymore. (loss of sense of self)
- What will people think if they see me? (insecure)
The relationship’s sexual health is in jeopardy. Typically, our go-to behaviors are avoidance and pretending as if the issue is not there. These behaviors provide only initial, momentary relief but ultimately intensify the psychological distress.
The solution is to address the metaphorical skyscraper as early as possible. In other words, expect your weaknesses will eventually present themselves and prepare for those moments. The basic steps include:
1. Grieve. The sole purpose of treating cancer with surgery and/or chemotherapy is to kill the tumor. Grieving is the natural and normal response to a loss, even the ones we want to no longer have in our lives.
2. Accept. Living is about transforming and adjusting to each change. We do this unknowingly each day and more consciously each year (e.g., resolutions, religious atonement).
Major medical events also provide us opportunities for transformation. It’s your choice whether your biological metamorphosis will be larva to frog or caterpillar to butterfly.
3. Appreciate. Esteem is when we have a realistic and appreciative opinion of ourselves. Take note of what is accurate, without judgment. Is the surgical site healing properly? Then it is normal.
Our skin is an amazing elastic organ. It will quickly transform that scar into a very light line. Be appreciative of your healing self. It is alive and well.
You can now choose to live your life consciously and intentionally with your partner, who is still standing alongside you.
4. Create. With your significant partner, access that imaginativeness you had as a child. Be playful in your intimacy. Learn new erotic zones. Challenge your and your partner’s awareness of how to elicit pleasure in new ways. Together, be intentional in enhancing your friendship and emotional bond by creating rituals of connection, such as:
a. Pillow talk time that is playful or erotic
b. Walks after meals to share about your time apart
c. Guessing games about childhood experiences
d. Texting thoughts of affirmation
e. Foot and scalp massage dates
5) Talk. Talk. Talk. Engage in equally shared conversations about needs and how to meet them as best as possible. The perfect time to talk about important and/or emotional matters is not a real thing; that’s what we tell ourselves to avoid talking about serious stuff, like our needs or distresses.
Make the request – “When can we talk about ‘x’? Tonight, or tomorrow after work?” – and agree to the day and time. In this way, you are being equally respectful while advocating for yourself.
Also, don’t wait and wait or pretend it will go away. Concerns are most often resolvable when discussed early and individually (not with other concerns). Remember, perfection is not the goal; completion is good enough.
Most importantly, professional mental health care for relationships during and following a major medical event is a valuable resource.
Your oncologist may have a medical family therapist on staff, or you can check your insurance provider for a list of in-network marriage and family therapists who specialize in illness and family therapy.
Emily Donald – Aligned Counseling
I think first and foremost it’s important to acknowledge that confidence in your body might not be a reasonable goal. The side effects of chemo can be brutal and change so much about a woman’s body and experience.
Further, cancer is a betrayal of you by your body. Confidence feels like a lofty goal. Therefore, I would set the goal as feeling more confident in the relationship. It’s very important to acknowledge the lack of confidence with a partner.
If the “problem” is shared, then you’re no longer alone in dealing with it.. Shouldering that alone is isolating and offers your partner no opportunity to be supportive and meet your needs for connection and support.
Intimacy with a partner (and thus confidence in the partner and relationship) is increased when that partner is there to “catch” you and to reassure you in the ways you need to be reassured.
It can be especially helpful when talking to a partner about the lack of confidence to ask for what you need if you’re able or aware of it.
If you’re not, acknowledge that too! “I don’t know what I need from you right now, but I do know I need you to know that my hair loss is making me feel very unattractive and I don’t know what to do about that.”
Attending therapy with your partner or separately can also help you communicate these things and help your partner be responsive to those needs in ways that work for you.
Cynthia McKay – Ballen Medical
In my practice, I routinely treat women who are dealing with a cancer diagnosis as well as the aftermath of chemo and radiation therapy. My suggestions include:
1. Your partner is with you from the diagnosis. As a couple, research and speak to medical specialists as to what you can expect with each stage of treatment. That alleviates the unpleasant surprises that could evolve from treatment.
2. Talk openly with your partner. Together, you should address the unknown and what might be “scary.” Decide how to address the physical changes that might occur. Communication is essential.
3. Let your partner help guide you through treatment and physical changes by being there. It will allow them to be a part of your healing rather than feeling helpless.
4. Explain to your partner that you are feeling anger over the diagnosis and that the anger is not directed toward them.
5. Allow your partner to be involved in the aesthetics of things- Bring him or her with you to choose a wig or prosthetic -that inclusion can bring you closer and provide your partner with a better understanding of what you are facing.
6. Tell your partner what you need. Explain that there will be times when you need to be alone or prefer to be with people. Open communication will reduce the frustration levels for both parties.
7. Ask for help when you need it. A partner generally does not know what you need or want. Let them help by showing you love and compassion.
8. Make plans with your partner for the future. Having a trip planned can be therapeutic.
9. Look forward to the future. Talk about taking a class together, plan an event, or get tickets to a future concert. Having something to plan for, enjoy, and read about when you’re in treatment will give you both excitement and a change from treatment.
10. Finally love yourself. The variations in your body have nothing to do with who you are inside. Allow your partner to see that you are worried but accepting of the transformation. Embrace the changes knowing that things are most likely temporary.
Dr. David Khalili – Rouse Therapy
Battling cancer and going through chemotherapy treatment impacts not only one’s physical health but also mental health.
It’s understandable if you are experiencing a wide range of emotions and thoughts about yourself during this process.
While it can be essential to focus on the positives and what you’re grateful for, it’s equally important to acknowledge what is changing.
By acknowledging and accepting the changes, you can work through building up the self-esteem of your new accepted self.
This process is, of course, far easier said than done. You don’t have to do this on your own. There are wonderful and trained therapists specializing in cancer support.
You can attend therapist-run or peer-run support groups. You can consider art therapy, retreats, or meet-up groups.
Whichever you choose, increasing your social and emotional support during this life-changing transition can create a dramatic difference in your recovery.
Joni Ogle – The Heights Treatment
There is no one answer to this question since confidence is such a personal feeling. However, some things may help you feel more confident during this difficult time.
First, it is important to keep in mind that your appearance does not define you as a person. Cancer can cause physical changes that are out of your control, but try to focus on the things that remain the same, such as your personality and inner strength.
A good tip is to keep doing the things you love and the things that helped boost your confidence before cancer.
For example, if you enjoyed working out, continue to exercise as much as your energy levels allow. If you felt good about the way you looked in a certain outfit, then wear it again. Small things like these can make a big difference in how you feel about yourself.
It can also be helpful to talk to your partner about what you’re going through. Open communication can help maintain intimacy and closeness, even when your body is going through changes.
You can be honest about your fears and concerns, and let them know what you need from them for support.
Breaking down any potential communication barriers will only make you feel closer as a couple and help you get through this tough time together.
David Helfand – LifeWise
I usually tell couples the first step to adjusting to their body when dealing with cancer or chemo is to allow themselves to grieve the loss.
It’s important that your partner can validate and hold you while you process very complex emotions about your body changing, feeling nauseous, and potentially having very little energy for sex or emotional connection within your marriage.
After grieving, your can then start to explore what feels good. You might notice previously pleasurable activities are now painful or unenjoyable.
Be honest with yourself and don’t force an experience that is unpleasant.
Instead redirect the experience to find new ways to have fun with yourself and with each other. Masturbation can sometimes feel like a safer way to explore your new self than partner sex since you are in full control of the experience.
Jennifer Teplin- Manhattan Wellness’s
While it may feel difficult, focusing on connection and satisfaction outside of physical appearance is key whenever we are faced with a challenge such as battling cancer.
Challenge yourself to see physical appearance as one aspect of how you present as a person and try to focus on the aspects of yourself that have remained the same ahead of the diagnosis.
Having drastic shifts in appearance due to side effects of chemotherapy can make individuals feel as though they have little control over their bodies and the way they present themselves.
Focusing on connection past physical appearance is key for partners to remain connected during this time.
Intimacy and connection can be experienced on many levels from holding hands, to sharing life visions and hopes and wishes for the future.
Self-esteem is strengthened when we view the entire person as being worthy not based only on our looks.
For those who feel their self-esteem is lowered due to physical appearance, it’s best to begin looking at many elements of our being that can make us feel confident such as our personalities, relationships with others, and careers among other aspects of life.
Sara Sloan – Austin Concierge Therapy
Oftentimes, when you’re battling cancer, one issue that affects a lot of women is questioning whether or not they can trust their own bodies.
Cancer can feel like your body has betrayed you. Without being able to trust your own body, it can be hard to feel safe, which is integral to feeling confident and attractive.
It’s also important for women with cancer to redefine what it means to be sexy for themselves.
For instance, some women opt for implants after a mastectomy to feel like themselves, while others find strength and beauty in going flat.
Other women have had beautiful tattoos created to cover their scars, which is what makes them feel beautiful.
After cancer, you want to get to know your body again. Both your body and sex can be completely following cancer, so you want to be patient with the process and explore what feels good now.
You want to accept the differences, both positive and negative, and embrace the possibility of making it new.
Whitney Shea – Mindful Vision Counseling
Over the years I have worked with clients who have struggled with illness, self-esteem issues and relational dynamics. I have included a few suggestions that will help your readers:
1. Perspective is key. Communication is a subtle art.
Both come into play when we are forced into a situation in which not only are the partners dealing with their own doubts and fears but also faced with the realization that they are not in control.
2. Working together to brainstorm and verbalize those things that are, in fact, within their abilities to change is imperative. Not only will they learn much about themselves, but in sharing with one another, become closer simply by way of connecting on a deeper and more personal level.
3. Gaining an understanding of the ways that each partner feels attractive, loved and accepted is also important. This may look very different than what couples may think!
Katie Wenger – Higher Fulfillment
Focusing on the internal core of who you are and what you love about yourself is key.
Many people gauge attractiveness on intelligence and personality, more so than physical attributes.
The emotional bond in relationships will increase confidence in the relationship and with your partner.
This area should be focused on when going through a health situation to keep the relationship strong.
The best way for to feel confident in your body while battling cancer is to create new erotic and romantic encounters while you both are in this “new normal.”
It is important to take the time and just be close to each other as there are possible body changes with cancer.
I recommend giving compliments and sharing with each other why you appreciate each other and the feeling that it gives the both of you.
Keep close physically and emotionally, for instance, while kissing, cuddling, and caressing each other.
This is great because it makes you still feel wanted despite the cancer diagnosis, and this helps feeling confident in your body. It also shows that you ultimately care for each other deeply, independently of the disease.
For women, cancer can be a serious attack on their identity, and this can certainly impact their relationships and self-esteem. With the side effects of chemotherapy come fear, anger, hopelessness, and isolation.
The lack of feeling physically confident appears when there are changes to the body. She may feel shame about the changes in her sexuality and body. Her partner may feel shame that they still have normal sexual and emotional needs, and this can create a disconnect.]
Suffering from a cancer diagnosis may mean not only restricting sex but can also reduce the capacity to become aroused. This may be the most difficult part of a cancer diagnosis.
Both partners may feel less attractive, less confident, and concerned about how their body works and adapts to the illness. Both partners may become plagued with anxiety due to worry, reduced sexual activity, and fear of the future.
To deal with the side effects, it is critical to allow yourself to feel your emotions and grieve what you have lost. I recommend that when women go on their healing journey, it is important to ask themselves what they were like prior to their illness.
Describe what is happening now, what were your strengths in the past, and can they show up for you now?
Knowing these strengths can help you cope with the side effects of cancer treatment, and this can allow you to have self-compassion and admiration for yourself.
Sometimes people report feeling betrayed by their body, or that it doesn’t look or feel like their body anymore.
Recommendation: compassionately notice that you are having a reaction to your body. Notice that these feelings make sense and that most people would have the same reactions in your situation.
Show yourself some kindness about what you’re going through, and notice that these reactions are both valid and probably at least somewhat going to change over time.
During cancer treatments that bring about body changes, some people need more physical affection and reassurance.
Some people, on the other hand, want less physical affection or fear that it may lead to intimacy that feels scary or uncomfortable.
Feeling unattractive, feeling like your body has changed in a way you don’t like, and feeling scared of physical intimacy are all pretty normal during cancer treatment.
Recommendation: openly communicate with your partner about what you are feeling and what you need. The most important thing is to keep lines of communication open and continue to foster trust between you.
Dr. William Kolbe – The RPM
I am not a woman but I have been working through my prostate cancer issues this year. I figure there might be a viable connection between dealing with radiation therapy as a man and chemotherapy as a woman
I have just finished high energy radiation treatment for prostate cancer, fortunately I am facing only a few of the many possible serious side effects.
Part of the treatment is to get periodic testosterone blocker shots which can produce weight gain, low energy and libido, and fragile bones while the radiation did some temporary damage to the urinary tract resulting in nocturnal incontinence and intermittent leakage.
Contrary to the cancer compromising my health and fitness, it has summoned in me an impassioned drive to not slow down, to push a little harder, and to make changes in my lifestyle that boost my vigor, robustness, and well-being.
This undertaking is a path to my wholeness, a wellspring of confidence allowing me to be completely present to my wife in body, mind, and spirit.
To love ourselves for who we are, to appreciate and accept our bodies, to affirm our attractiveness, are fundamental for elevating the confidence to openly share ourselves with our partners.
Gregory Cheney – Valiant Couples Therapy
Three helpful strategies to feel confident in your body and in your partner while battling cancer.
1. Tune in to your experience.
Take some time to tune in to how you are experiencing your journey. It can be helpful to get curious about your emotions and what you are feeling.
Work to understand what is happening in areas that are tempting to avoid. Get curious about these places, and develop self-awareness. This type of self-reflection takes intentional steps.
Try sitting or going for a walk alone. Take some deep breaths, relax, and tune into what you notice.
2. Tell your partner about your experience.
Tuning into your experience, curiosity, and self-awareness often uncovers soft emotions. When battling cancer insecurity and fear of rejection from your partner may surface.
Tell your partner about these insecurities, softer emotions, and fears once they surface. Telling this to your partner can draw you together when feeling pushed apart.
3. Be specific about what you need.
Once you connect with your partner from a soft, vulnerable place, be specific about what you need.
Give your partner the opportunity to show up for you in the way that would help you the most as you deal with your changing body and low self-esteem.
Mikela Hallmark – Rise Tampa Counseling
As humans, we often self-identify with the way we look and we get accustomed to this being part of us. And, with cancer treatment our looks can change significantly.
We can experience hair loss or change in color, weight loss or gain, and more. This change can really impact the way we feel around others and even around our significant other.
There isn’t a one size fits all approach to feeling confident in your body while battling cancer, but my big suggestion is to throw out all of your old ideas of what beauty is.
They came from a life that wasn’t informed by the battle you are facing. Still, you can consider things that help you in this moment and in this stage of life.
When battling cancer you may notice an increase in weight or a decrease in weight. The health at every size approach to this would be to try and buy clothes that fit you at this size. This can help to feel more confident and less uncomfortable in your old clothes.
For some, hair loss comes with cancer treatment. Embracing this stage might mean buying wigs, or funky hats.
For others, that means getting a tattoo, wearing red lipstick and fake eyelashes, for some, it’s going completely bare and loving that experience.
One thing you can do is start to get really present in whatever look you’re trying out.
Notice how it feels to your body. What emotions do you experience with this look? What would you like to convey to others with this look? What can you appreciate with this look?
Embracing the power of going natural, or the sauciness of putting on that bob cut wig, or donning a funky tattoo on the side of your head can all be ways that people use what is in their control to enjoy their bodies in this moment.
Dr. Alexandra Emery – Grit City Psychology
When we think of cancer, we often think of the more visible side effects like loss of hair, fatigue, and the overall demanding toll of chemotherapy, but there are many other invisible battles that make it difficult for many to feel connected to themselves, their body, and their partner.
I often work with women who struggle with how difficult it is to be strong and put on a brave face for their partner, friends, and family, all while feeling a wide variety of emotions themselves.
The tug of war between trying to remain optimistic, and tend to all of the physical and emotional challenges of cancer treatment can feel exhausting, confusing, and can lead to loss of self-esteem.
Isla Zyair – Obesity Controller
One of the most challenging things about battling cancer is how it can make you feel about your body.
Chemotherapy can cause a wide range of side effects, from hair loss to weight gain, making it hard to handle confidence and comfortable in your own skin.
It can impact your relationship with your partner in many ways. You may feel less attractive and may be less interested in sexual intimacy. You may also find yourself withdrawing from physical affection altogether.
It’s important to communicate openly with your partner about how you’re feeling and ask for the support you need. Suppose you’re struggling with negative body image.
In that case, many self-care practices can help, such as exercise, journaling, and mind-body therapies like yoga or meditation.
Another way to feel confident in your body and your partner is to keep a positive outlook. Remember that your cancer does not define you and that you are still the same person you were before you got sick.
It is also important to take care of yourself physically. Eating right and getting regular cancer screenings can help you stay healthy and feel good about yourself.
If you are dealing with side effects from chemotherapy, such as hair loss, talk to your doctor about ways to minimize these effects.
You may also want to speak to a counselor or support group to help you deal with any negative feelings you have about your appearance.
Chemotherapy side effects like hair loss are only temporary, and your physical appearance should not define your relationships.
Thank you so much to all the experts that have contributed to this expert roundup! Please share this article on social media. It may help people that are battling cancer right now who could use some reasurances that they aren’t alone.