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Breast cancer: Coping with body changes after surgery

Colleen E. Crane MSW, LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker based in Bozeman, Montana. Colleen is currently in private practice and specializes in working with adolescent girls and women.

Breast cancer and body changes

Body changes after breast cancer surgery are normal and to be expected. But how do we cope with them on an emotional level? Here are three things you can focus on today to help you start feeling better about yourself and your body.

Breast cancer survivor

1Rejoice! Your body made it this far!

Your body is an amazing thing that has helped you get this far! When you're feeling down about some of the noticeable changes after surgery, try focusing on the positives. One way to do this is to create positive affirmations for yourself. For example: "Every part of me is special and unique -- my scars are not just scars but a visual representation of the battles that I have fought and won today." After you are feeling better and ready to exercise, consider joining a Race for the Cure team, or join a group that is cancer- focused, like a "living with cancer" yoga or aerobics class.

2Grieve the loss

Allow yourself the time to mourn what once was. After cancer surgery there are so many changes, both visibly and internally. Some women find it helpful to take pictures, paint portraits or create a scrapbook of their cancer journeys. Be creative in finding ways to help yourself grieve -- there is no right or wrong way to grieve.

Also, remember that grieving is a cycle. You might find that on anniversaries or certain times of the year you feel more down or depressed about your treatment/surgery and outcome. This is normal. Learn to appreciate each event by doing something special on that day -- eventually you will have created a new and uplifting ritual for yourself.

3Get help

Whether it's getting a doctor to help you get fitted with a prosthesis or taking a special trip to the salon, use your resources to help you feel better. A prosthesis can be helpful if you are feeling uncomfortable with how your breasts look -- make sure you check with your insurance company when ordering a prosthesis because many of them will cover this cost.

If you're still feeling down about body changes post-surgery, consider talking with a mental health professional. Often, just talking with someone and having him or her reassure you that this is normal goes a long way to toward helping you find your emotional balance.

Another important factor: Know that you are not alone. There are many women who have come before you in this journey, and many more to come. Look for message boards or local organizations if you feel more comfortable getting involved in a group setting.

Mastectomy beauty

Megan, 58, tells why she chose double mastectomy surgery and no surgical reconstruction after being diagnosed with breast cancer -- and how she feels about her body now.

More on life after cancer

The breast cancer survivor's diet
Breast cancer survivor stories
10 Celebrity breast cancer survivors

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