Keeping Up Appearances:
When cancer changes your looks, the makeover starts inside
As if confronting a life-threatening illness isn't challenging enough for cancer patients,
treating that illness often means coming face-to-face with changes in physical appearance, too. Baldness. Scarring. The
loss of a breast. The loss of a limb. We offer some strategies for coping with these changes.
Kate Muir opted not to wear a wig.
Do Looks Really Matter?
When one's health -- or life -- is at stake, do appearances really matter? According to Claire Weiner, L.M.S.W., a social worker
in the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center's PsychOncology Program, that's one of the first questions many
patients -- male and female -- wrestle with. Weiner and the other members of the PsychOncology team are quick to remind patients
that it's normal -- not vain -- to be concerned about how we look.
"Our looks are part of our identity," she notes. "Give yourself permission to feel what you're feeling. Even if the loss may have
saved your life, you can still grieve it."
Diane Argyle wears a compression sleeve to ease the symptoms of
lymphedema. It helps her maintain arm strength for daily activities.
When it comes to coping with that new face in the mirror, a strong sense of self-worth and a solid support system are invaluable.
"To be honest, I didn't give my appearance a lot of thought," recalls Diane Argyle, an eight-year breast cancer survivor who lost
her hair during chemotherapy treatments.
Argyle brought great resilience to her cancer battle and drew on the understanding of family and friends to put changes in her
appearance into perspective.
Kate Muir, who is currently in treatment for breast cancer, remembers looking in the mirror at one point and seeing "an alien,
not someone I knew." Eventually, she says, she was able to deal with the changes.
"In my family today, who you are is based on what you do, what you speak, what you feel -- not on how you look," she says. From
the very start, Muir's family encouraged her to go out just as she was. Her son, who lives in Ann Arbor, told her, "Who cares? No
one cares how they look in Ann Arbor!"
Coming to terms with changes in one's appearance means not only making an emotional adjustment, but making a number of practical
decisions as well. Should I get a wig? What types of prostheses and products are available? What else can I do to look and feel my
best? Keep reading for a few suggestions from Argyle and Muir.
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