Coming to terms with your post-cancer body

7 Mar
Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Once you’re flagged as somebody who might have cancer, you’re basically strapped onto the world’s worst carnival ride.

The ride starts off slowly at first with biopsies and consultations but then once you’re diagnosed, it picks up speed. Then there are scans, MRIs, surgery appointments, oncology consults and shopping excursions to buy things you’ve never heard of like surgical camisoles. Suddenly, the Merry-Go-Round or Tilt-a-Whirl or whatever it is starts going at breakneck speed. You go through surgery, you go through chemo, you go through radiation, you do it all. You get used to this new reality, this tumultuous spinning wheel of blood draws, port infusions, belly shots of Neulasta, daily blasts of radiation. You go around and around, back and forth, up and down, over and over. You’re strong and on top of things one day; you’re addle-brained and couch-bound the next. You spend all of your time in pajamas and patient gowns. You forget how to talk to people. You forget who you are. You’re bald, boobless, beaten down and burned to a crisp. And then suddenly, you’re pushed off the Tilt-a-Whirl or Octopus or whatever it is and told to go back to your normal life. The ride is over.

The only problem is, you’re still spinning.

Ever see somebody get off a high-speed carnival ride that’s suddenly stopped short? They stagger. They lurch. They might even walk into a pole. Or do a face plant onto the sidewalk.

That’s what life after cancer treatment was like for me: a great big WTF. I couldn’t trust the ground under my feet. I couldn’t trust my own body. I couldn’t even trust the reflection staring back at me in the mirror.

I tried to capture what it was like coming back from that and coming to terms with my new body and my “new normal” in this latest essay for

Writing about post-cancer body changes – and body image — has, by far, been the hardest thing to put into words and share with others. To be honest, it feels a lot like showing up at work in your underwear. But as vulnerable as it makes me feel to put this out into the world, I think it’s important to let people know about the collateral damage of treatment. And let other cancer peeps know they are most certainly not alone.

As always, thanks for the read, people.

10 Responses to “Coming to terms with your post-cancer body”

  1. Joan Seda March 7, 2015 at 4:28 pm #

    Yes, you need to continue putting the experience into words, which you have such a gift doing. It is all of what you say and even more. We ALL have to continue putting it out there and fighting the fight as long as we’re still breathing!

  2. rosiebogie March 8, 2015 at 6:08 am #

    A face plant…yep! Good lord woman, you have captured exactly what it’s like with your words.

    Movies and TV never show this part of the process, so we are left spinning without a point zero to stare at.

    Thank you for nailing it. Now call a producer and tell them you have a script to write for them.

  3. Susan March 8, 2015 at 7:37 am #

    Expression is the best therapy! Thanks for sharing!
    I found that the healthier my spirit got, the more I realized that my body is not really a very important part of who I am. It need to be nurtured with exercise and clean food to keep it serving me, don’t get me wrong, but my essence really defines me. Daily meditation practice secures this.

  4. Nancy Yonker March 8, 2015 at 8:14 am #

    Once again Diane, you’ve nailed it. I so wish oncologists got it. You really are kind of left out there on your own to put it all back together as best you can. Thanks for putting it into words. Great job!

  5. Vanessa March 8, 2015 at 2:12 pm #

    I’ve written about my issues with my pre, during, and post-cancer body. It’s hard, at 30 I sometimes feel closer to 300 and other times I go “wow, my body is amazing.” From cells that can replicate to being able to climb a mountain, my body has done really cool things. Then I spy my scar and it triggers a thousand painful memories.

    It’s hard living in the middle of “wow” and “why?!” Thank you for sharing your POV!

  6. kimberlycarney March 8, 2015 at 2:23 pm #

    I think you look fantastic 😉 xoxo

  7. Debra March 22, 2015 at 11:26 pm #

    Diane you have an exceptional ability to express what it is like! I am the same age as you, I have 4 younger sisters, and I was diagnosed 1 month before you were in Jan 2011.
    Seems there is a LOT of BC diagnosed at around that age. I had had yearly mammograms since I was 28 (maybe all that radiation caused it!?) My mammo 2 months earlier was clear. I found the lump myself doing my (roughly quarterly) self-exams. Actually, it wasn’t quite a “lump”, as I had invasive lobular BC. I had dense breasts. Based on the 1.2cm size, my doc said it had been growing for eight years. My self-identity was pretty centered around my DDs and my very trim figure. Having them both chopped off was THE most difficult thing I have ever done. An ultrasound instead of mammo would have caught it sooner.
    I did get reconstruction. I hate to say it, but BC/mammos/treatment is a HUGE money-making industry!!! Where would the industry be if the CAUSE of BC was discovered? I’d like to see more study on this, and save women the horrors of having to go through all the treatments.

  8. Tim November 11, 2015 at 8:36 am #

    I am commenting on an article written by this lady on dating in your 50’s when she talked about the kind of responses she had from men, post operative. My situation is different in that I am a man whose wife died of triple negative Breast Cancer almost three years ago and only now, out of the blue, feels the need for female companionship, something I never thought would happen again. My wife of 35 years died aged 55 and was my life and soul mate. Cancer destroyed her and I looked after her every need at home for the last 10 weeks of her life. Her death devestated me and it has taken almost three years for me to feel in any way back in the “human race”. I have also learned I am a complete novice at dating, having married at 21. My girlfriend experiences pre marriage have long been forgotten. I am six foot, short dark hair considered athletic and that I look a lot younger than I am, but the truth is, I really dont have a clue where to start. I don’t want anything serious yet, just a hand to hold a meal to share and to have some fun.
    If something developed, well that would be great , but at the moment I really feel quite hopeless about it.
    I never thought I would discover that after 60 years on this planet, I would have to start to learn the dating “skill” all over again.
    Ok well……watch this space I suppose…..

  9. David Mann May 11, 2016 at 11:46 pm #

    I know this post is about a year old, but i just found it.

    Please take heart, have courage, and don’t give up. There actually are some men who are not still teenage boys. We realize that beauty is not based on body parts. I can’t imagine how you feel, and do not mean to trivialize how your sense of self has changed. I just want to say that some of us realize that that the body changes but the person inside is where the beauty has always come from.

    I hope you realize that. You are still, and always will be the real you. Things sag, and waists expand. But you are still YOU. The beauty is still there and always will be. And the real men know and appreciate that.


    David M.


  1. Weekly Round Up: Stomp Out Breast Cancer Edition | Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer - March 8, 2015

    […] Caroline writes about altered body image; and as a companion piece read this post by Double Whammy. […]

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