April 15, 2024

This is how cancer really affects your body image

Georgie, 27, a blogger who was diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkin Lymphoma in 2018, knows this all too well.

As well as having a debilitating effect on a person’s body, cancer can also hugely impact body confidence. Cancer can change the way your body looks, works and feels – and that can change the way a person feels about themselves.

“It got to the point where I no longer recognised myself in the mirror,” she says about her battle. “I couldn’t see ‘me’ and for a long time I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror without bursting into tears. Cancer had stolen my identity. ”

Here, she writes candidly about how cancer impacted her body image and how an empowering photoshoot completely changed that.

Body confidence has always eluded me. I grew up constantly worried what people thought about me, uncomfortable in my own skin, always trying to change it with products and make up and avoiding so many clothes and activities because I never thought my body was ‘good enough. ’ Even as I reached my mid-twenties my biggest concern was always my body. So, to couple my self-conscious inner workings with a cancer diagnosis – I struggled.

My name is Georgie, I’m 27 and in 2018 I was diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkin lymphoma. I discovered a rather unusual lump on the side of my neck whilst at work, it didn’t hurt or bother me in any way (aside from the fact it was about the size of a plum), and after some wise words from colleagues I made a GP appointment.

He was quick thinking and went through the symptoms for lymphoma. Lump in neck, check, severe itching, check, flu-like symptoms, weight loss, night sweats, fatigue, check! I was fast-tracked through so many different tests it would make you dizzy and was diagnosed two weeks later with stage 4 Hodgkin lymphoma. My newly-found hitchhiker had made its home in so many places that I went in for my first chemotherapy the day after being diagnosed.

During my six months of chemotherapy, I watched my hair fall out followed swiftly by my eyebrows and lashes, I had so many new scars I could play dot to dot and each week I continually gained weight thanks to the medication. It got to the point where I no longer recognised myself in the mirror, I couldn’t see ‘me’ and for a long time I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror without bursting into tears. Cancer had stolen my identity. The body I already wasn’t the biggest fan of was morphing into my worst nightmare and there was nothing I could do about it.

One of the hardest parts ironically was reaching remission. Nothing snapped back to the way it was before. I had spent years disliking my body and now I would give anything to have it back!

Slowly, my body began to feel like it was coming back to life. I started exercising and I was fuelling my body with everything healthy, but I didn’t gain any body confidence, it had only evolved into more unhappiness that my body let me down and I still looked ‘different’.

Unfortunately, a few months later I relapsed, and it took having cancer a second time for me to start appreciating my body and to realise how much it was doing for me. My body needed me on its side not against it, after all this is my home. But this kind of shift in mindset doesn’t happen overnight.

When I got the call inviting me to take part in a body confidence photoshoot with Alex Cameron for Stand Up To Cancer, my initial reaction was ‘no chance, no one would want to see me in the nud! ’ Then I had a moment of clarity, this is about celebrating my body, appreciating the skin I’m in and seeing beauty and strength I possess.

Never in a million years did I ever think I would have the confidence to do this but I stripped off, got snapped and it’s the best thing I have ever done. Looking at the images I don’t see a body is dislike, I see a body I’m proud of. I don’t like to give cancer the credit for anything, but it was definitely the catalyst as to why I’m now confident in my own skin. It has taught me life is too short to be negative about my body, I want to see the beauty in it instead.

My advice to anyone going through something similar is to try to get into a habit of giving yourself positive affirmations. Thank your body for being your home, thank it for carrying you, thank it for all the work it is doing – say it out loud if you need to. Don’t compare yourself to others, you’re on a totally different journey. Smile, seriously, look in the mirror and smile – you are beautiful.

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