Cancer is a life changing journey. From diagnosis through survivorship, survivors are faced with physical and emotional changes – some temporary and others that stay with them. This may include surgery that removed cancer, radiation that changed the color of a patient’s skin, or chemotherapy, which made them lose their hair. After completing cancer treatment, scars or surgical changes can make transitioning back to normal life challenging. It’s important for survivors to instead focus on embracing a new normal.
“Cancer is a journey that takes courage and strength,” says Stacey Schuler, breast cancer navigator at Methodist Healthcare Cancer Network, a Sarah Cannon partner in San Antonio, Texas. “Changes to the body from cancer treatment are like battle scars that should be worn with pride. Remember, a woman will continue to heal both inside and out for some time. As these scars fade, she will become more resilient and reflective of the journey that she endured.”
The support of loved ones can significantly help with embracing a new image after cancer. Kelley, a breast cancer survivor, explains that what helped her the most was her husband’s approval of her newly grown-back white hair after chemotherapy.
“My husband’s acceptance and encouragement have been so helpful for me. You have no idea how much words of affirmation like ‘you’re beautiful’ can mean to a survivor,” says Kelley, who received her treatment at Methodist Healthcare Cancer Network.
Survivors often hear terms throughout their journey such as “strong,” “proud,” “fighter,” and “winner.” While true, it is important to recognize that these fighters may face many different emotions throughout their journey.
“Cancer patients can often experience a full spectrum of emotions. It is normal to have difficulty adjusting to a changed body,” says Beverly Fullbright, also a breast cancer nurse navigator at Methodist Healthcare Cancer Network. “We encourage patients to re-learn their body after treatment and grow to love their new image. Cancer patients have fought tirelessly for their health – scars or discolored skin do not define them.”
The cancer journey can affect the entire support system surrounding a patient. It is a journey for the whole family, especially children and spouses. Communication and education are crucial when rekindling physical relationships and ensuring that families knows the best way to support a patient during and after treatment.
“Physical interactions can be challenging for patients after treatment, as they work through changes in their appearance and often a decreased sexual desire, which may be caused by emotional fatigue or medications such as anti-hormone therapy,” says Beverly. “We encourage patients to focus on becoming comfortable with their partner again. I often tell patients to start slow by hugging, kissing, holding hands, or going on a date. Opening the honest lines of communication can expedite the transition.”
Kelley, who just completed a year-long cancer treatment, was navigated through her cancer journey in San Antonio by Stacey Schuler.
“When you first find out you have cancer, you can turn inward and shut yourself off,” she says. “You need someone to go through this journey with you and show you that you’re still the same person, just stronger. Even though you might look different, different is beautiful too. I had my family and my care team supporting me from diagnosis and through my survivorship.”
On Wednesday, July 27 at 6pm, Sarah Cannon’s partner, Methodist Healthcare will host an event with moderator Pat Anstett, author of the book, Breast Cancer Surgery and Reconstruction: What’s Right for You. You can learn more about the event on the Methodist Healthcare website, and be sure to tune in for live streaming on the Facebook page.