THE BLOG

'Finding the New Normal' - Cancer and Body Image

05/07/2016 16:23 | Updated 05 July 2016

After I had my lifesaving bone marrow transplant I just wanted everything to go back to normal. I wanted to be me again; not just a cancer patient. I had to put my whole life on hold through my cancer treatment and now I wanted to get it back. Sadly it wasn't going to be as simple as that.

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Cancer had completely changed both my mind set and my body shape, so it seemed almost impossible for me to simply slip back into my old life. I felt like I was in this strange state of limbo - I wasn't quite a cancer patient anymore, but I wasn't really a 'normal' human being yet either. On top of the nausea, exhaustion and weakness that you feel post bone marrow transplant, there are also many changes to your body that you have to deal with; as if you hadn't already been through enough?! When I was first diagnosed, the news that my hair would fall out was not a surprise, but over the course of my treatment my body has changed in more ways than I ever would have realised.

Three months post-transplant and I can barely recognise myself in the mirror; my face is round and puffy from the steroid use, my nails are brittle and peeling, and I have long dark hairs growing on my cheeks as a side effect from my immunosuppressant medication.

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I feel almost completely disconnected from the image that I see staring back at me - I should see a slim, young woman with long brunette hair; not this bloated, tired looking woman. This has been one of the most difficult things that I have had to deal with since recovering. I've needed to find a way to feel at one with my body again and find a way of connecting who I used to be, with who I am now, and the person that I want to be now that my cancer battle is over. I need to find the new normal.

Through chemotherapy and radiotherapy the first thing that is affected is the skin. Luckily this can be easily dealt with through regular moisturising. However, not everything is as easy to manage. My nails developed ridges through them where the radiotherapy had stunted their growth - nail strengthener and varnish helped to a certain extent, but they still regularly cracked and sometimes even tore off.

My real nemesis has been my body's reaction to the drugs I have been taking. The steroids made my stomach and face puff out, and my immunosuppressant drug increased my body hair growth, making my look like something resembling a pregnant ewok - not really the look I was hoping to achieve...

As well as being utterly demoralising, this change in body shape was also a practical nightmare - none of the clothes that I owned really fit me anymore and when I went shopping nothing that I tried on ever felt very flattering.

No matter how hard it's been, I know that this will not last forever. As my drug doses get lowered I'll lose the extra weight, and as time passes my skin and nails will return to normal. Among all of this it becomes very easy to be frustrated with your own body, but really, I am proud of my body. I am proud of my body for surviving this. Cancer treatment has put my body through a great amount of stress, but no matter what has been thrown at it, my body has pulled through and has managed to deal with all of it - my body really is amazing..

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But if it wasn't for my stem cell donor, whose blood now courses through my veins, I wouldn't be here today and I wouldn't have just graduated from the University of Aberdeen! If you do one thing today, please make it signing up to the Anthony Nolan register at www.anthonynolan.org

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