It’s important to recognise that a diagnosis of bowel cancer, and subsequent treatment, can have a profound effect on your body image, your sexuality and your personal relationships.
Treatment for bowel cancer such as surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy can take its toll on you emotionally, psychologically and physically. Changes to your body can be a constant reminder of your cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Wounds heal, leaving scars that often only you and your partner will see. There may be changes in how your body looks and behaves that you have difficulty accepting. These unexpected feelings can leave you feeling anxious or vulnerable, especially when on holiday or in an intimate setting.
Surgery can change the shape and function of your body; hernias can often protrude a little and stoma bags can form shapes under your clothing. These days there is pressure via the media on both men and women to have a perfect body – an unrealistic ideal which can cause anxiety, regardless of whether you have had cancer or not.
Like many others, you might also be worrying about how other people see you. You may feel unable to talk openly with people about your cancer experience because of their own fears or assumptions. Some common worries include:
• concerns that others will no longer find you attractive
• worries that you will be unable to form new relationships
• embarrassment over physical changes, a new stoma or scar
• noises or smells your body may now make
• loss of confidence and self-esteem.
Whether you are in a long-term relationship or dating, there may be body image issues for you and your partner that you might want to talk to a professional about. It can be quite daunting to consider discussing such sensitive and personal issues with someone else, but it is important to remember that healthcare professionals are used to talking about such issues.
Do talk to your medical team about how you are feeling. Your colorectal nurse or GP can refer you to specialist therapists and support services who can work with you on a one to one basis if you feel it would help. Also, perhaps you could post on our forum and explain how you’re feeling – it can be completely anonymous – and you may find people out there who have the same concerns.