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Body Image After Breast Cancer: Adjusting to a New Normal

Breast cancer survivors share what it’s like to look in the mirror after surgery and treatment.

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As if side effects from chemotherapy and the emotional stress of cancer aren’t difficult enough, women with breast cancer have an added challenge: accepting changes, whether short-term or permanent, in how their bodies look, feel, and function.

Between hair loss, early menopause, and scars from various surgeries, the body may change drastically during and after breast cancer treatment. Here, the women HealthiNation interviewed opened up about their unique experience adjusting to their new bodies after breast cancer.

You have to find the beauty within

“Beauty comes in different forms. You have to feel it from within and it’s a process.
—Theresa, diagnosed at 44

Not the body I was hoping for

“The hardest part is getting used to this new body. This is not my body. This is not what I was hoping for. I gained weight from chemo so I’m heavier and I don’t have my actual boobs. I don’t have nipples. I have scars all over my chest.”
—Rosanna, diagnosed at 32

Foreign in my own body

“Initially, these felt foreign. They didn’t feel like my body. And it’s really hard to have any part of yourself that doesn’t feel right.”
—Sally, diagnosed at 40

Liked the way it looked before

“I liked the way my body looked before, so it was definitely hard to have it change so drastically.”
—Alyssa, diagnosed at 23

The dreaded mirror

“When I look in the mirror, I look at my face. I don’t look at my body.”
—Doris, diagnosed at 37, 47, 54

For some, a positive experience

“Physically, I feel positive about my experience. I feel like I look good. I feel like my husband feels the same way. I don’t think that it really has affected our life in that way.”
—Nicole, diagnosed at 36

Like a neon sign

“Every single hair on my body fell out. I went and had my wig, and I was prepared for my hair falling out. The wig can make you feel self-conscious. It doesn’t matter how good the wig really looks to other people, I felt like I had a great, big, red, neon sign pointing at my head that said, ‘This is a wig.’”
—Lisa, diagnosed at 46

Finding the right wig

“When I finally found one that I liked, it’s a huge step into feeling more comfortable because when you can look at yourself and feel like, ‘Oh, I don’t look like a sick person anymore,’ it’s really helpful when I’m trying to accept how I’m looking.”
—Alyssa, diagnosed at 23

Even the best wig is still “not my hair”

“For me, it was harder to lose my hair than to lose my breasts. I think that hair is something that everyone sees. You can get the best wig in the world, and my wig looked like my best blowout ever, but it still wasn’t my hair.”
—Sally, diagnosed at 40

For others, the wig brings empowerment

“The wig experience was interesting for me because I was trying to not have to do it, which was silly. I was trying different things, and I just wasn’t feeling good about it at all. I felt like I couldn’t do the cute little buzzcut. I couldn’t carry it. I wasn’t happy, so I went and I shopped for a wig, and it was an empowering experience because when you put it on— and it was made for me, so it looked exactly like me—I was just able to look in the mirror and smile and be so happy and just feel really good about myself.”
—Nicole, diagnosed at 36

A very special thanks to Susan G. Komen Greater New York City.