Holly holding a sign reading #StillMe

Tips on cancer and body image

It’s hard not to be affected if cancer or cancer treatment changes the way you look. The way we feel about ourselves can be closely linked to our appearance. So if you do look different, you might feel less confident, or more self-conscious, or shy, or just angry that your body doesn’t work or look like it used to.

We asked young people who have had cancer to share their advice on self-care, hair and beauty, accepting physical changes and self expression.

Looking after yourself

Dionne learned to accept having her leg amputated as part of her treatment:

“Having cancer made me realise that I matter too and I need to make time for myself! Before I was diagnosed, I’d never make time to go out with my friends and have fun. Now I do little things for myself like getting my nails done, and at the moment I’m learning to drive.

“I’m applying to go back to college to become a nurse, I would never have thought about doing that before! I want to work on a chemo ward because I have such a strong understanding of how it feels and I want to make a difference. I’m not just a mum, there’s so much more to me than that. After going through cancer I feel like I can do anything!”

Andrew was left with scar that he described as ‘looking like a shark bite’ after having a section of his leg removed:

“The advice I’d give to other people who are struggling with body image is don’t give up. I was in a dark place, and feeling really low, but I tended to keep it all to myself. I’d advise anyone to speak to someone and seek support where possible, it doesn’t need to be your family – there’s other means of support out there. You’re not alone, there’s a lot of people out there that will support you and give you the advice you need.”

Andrew holding a sign saying #StillMe

Hair and beauty

Holly never lost sight of who she was during her chemotherapy:

“I don’t wear a wig at gigs because I feel really proud of what I’m going through, and that I’m able to do these wonderful gigs at the same time. I can stand there with my bald head and feel proud of how far I’ve come.

“I’ve been putting on glitter every time I go in for chemo, which I call my ‘dragon transformation’ – it’s like I’m going through a training programme (AKA chemo) to become as strong and fearless as a dragon. I’ll be closer to becoming a complete dragon once I’ve finished treatment! I always put on glitter and my shiniest, comfiest clothes for chemo and walk in there like I’m going to a party – it just makes me feel so much more fierce!”

Your physical appearance

Terence had tumours that fractured his pelvis and a vertebra in his back, leaving him unable to walk:

“It’s great to set realistic goals and work backwards to determine the steps you need to achieve them.

“I realised that I had lost a lot of muscle tone from being wheelchair bound for so long, so I started going to the gym to build my leg muscles up. To start with I walked in, looked around and walked out. That’s fine, as it’s baby steps. Gyms can be intimidating so it’s good to go when it’s quiet or take a friend with you.

“I think it’s also important to give yourself credits for your achievements as you go along, and to surround yourself with people who have similar goals.”

Andrew found a way to be feel more comfortable with his scars:

“After my surgery I was so self-conscious of my leg and I couldn’t bear to look at it. I got a tattoo to cover it up and it has the silhouette of Gotham city and the spotlight, but instead of the bat symbol it says, ‘There’s light at the end’. It has given me a mental stability, I can look at it and think ‘I got through it, I’m still here’.”

Expressing yourself

Holly used music as a release during her treatment:

“Being able to express myself through music has helped me while I’ve been going through treatment. It’s just such a feeling of release and strength standing there having people listen and watch me as a musician dealing with something so huge.”

Holly holding a sign reading #StillMe