I was first diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in my left breast in 2001, and battled through six months of chemotherapy, a lumpectomy and six weeks of radiation. After that, I went through five years of hormone therapy. I was cancer-free for almost 12 years.
But in 2012, I was again diagnosed with breast cancer in the same breast. This time, I had a bilateral mastectomy and radiation after treatment. I wanted to look like myself and have my clothes fit following my mastectomy, so I had partial breast reconstruction at the time of my surgery. This greatly helped my emotional health.
Discovering MD Anderson’s Body Image Therapy Service
After my reconstruction, I began to seek out and attend educational programs offered by MD Anderson’s Body Image Therapy Service, which helps patients adjust to body image- and appearance-related changes resulting from cancer and cancer treatment.
I’ve participated in several of the group’s events over the last several years, including PIKNIC and the annual “Love Your Body Day” fashion show. I even participated in a study that used 3-D imaging to help patients make decisions about their reconstructive surgeries. I found it helpful that these programs focused more on the patients’ impressions of their body changes, rather than the changes themselves.
How art helped me rebuild my body image
This year I took advantage of a new offering -- an art class. It gave me a unique outlet to express my feelings. Local artists taught the program, guiding me and other patients and survivors as we explored our cancer journeys through painting.
I actually got the idea for my painting while my husband and I were replacing our home landscaping. We removed everything from our gardens – shrubs, flowers and other plants – and started from scratch.
I realized that that was what had happened to my body. My mastectomy had removed everything, and gradually, through reconstruction surgeries, I was blossoming again. I’d transitioned from devastation and storms to rebirth and reforestation.
As I learned through the art class, sometimes it’s easier to express ourselves without words. The art we created in that class gave us a canvas to show how we perceived our bodies and what they’re going through. In the process, we learned a little more about ourselves.
It’s normal to have body image concerns after cancer
Patients undergoing body-changing surgery need to know that it’s normal to have concerns about how they look and feel.
As I tell others, MD Anderson’s Body Image Therapy Service can provide you with the tools to improve your outlook while learning to appreciate your body again. I know it’s helped me.