Cancer is not only a Disease, it is a Thief of Self-Esteems

Cancer is not only a Disease, it is a Thief of Self-EsteemsWhen most people think of cancer, their minds are immediately drawn to a dark place and usually it gravitates immediately towards death.  Death becomes a very daunting reality to people who suffer from any form of cancer.  Cancer is a journey with many painful avenues that are walked.  Many of those avenues are walked alone, while others are accompanied by family and friends, and even children.  People that have a positive diagnosis for cancer begin to embrace what is set before them.  They know and understand that they are sick, that their body as they once knew it will never be the same.  They also may have a small comprehension of the treatment they will endure and how it will affect them and impede on their current lifestyle, and while nobody is ready for a positive diagnosis of cancer, people have a general understanding of what lies before them.  The understanding is limited, because as each person experiences cancer, they encounter different setbacks as well as different successes.  There are not carbon-copy cancer stories – they are all unique.  Although many stories cross the same lines, and they mirror each other in many ways, the underlying journey is unique to the individual and the family.  However, there is one aspect of cancer that is often overlooked.  It is overlooked because nobody considers this part of cancer.  What often is overlooked is how the cancer damages the self-esteem and self-image.

The characteristics of cancer are an ugly set of features. The blow of a cancer diagnosis can be tortuous on self-esteem.   For many, the diagnosis is a crushing disappointment to their ego.  Cancer can attack just about anyone, and when it attacks people who are normally in control and in charge of their lives or a person who is healthy beyond reason the effects of the disease are a blow to the person they have perceived themselves to be.  Cancer does not consider the unfairness of attacking people who are typically in charge of their life – the disease just attacks and often the person’s character is assaulted as well.   That is the beginning of the many crushes to the self-esteem and identity that a cancer victim endures.

Treatment for cancer varies among patients, but most patients will encounter radiation and also various forms of chemotherapy treatment.  Taking the medications themselves is not difficult on the victim – medical treatment may be something the cancer victim is used to, however, the crippling side effects are not only a physical debilitation for the victim, it is also a psychological as well as an emotional crippling that the patient endures.  For most serious cancers, they require radiation treatment as well as chemotherapy.  Both medications have serious physical side effects that accompany them and are often unbearable for the victim and very painful for the family.

The side effects to chemotherapy involved a constant state of sickness.  Most victims experience nausea and vomiting.  Because of this, the cancer victim will lose weight.  The medication and side effects will reduce their bodies down to a state of nearly non-functioning living.  Now this is not how it is for all patients, because again, everyone reacts differently, but for those people who experience this part of the cancer, it is crippling to their self-esteem.  When a once normally healthy and energetic person has that taken from them, it will un-doubting effect their esteem.  They are not feeble and weak and this is the complete contrary to who the once were.

Another side effect to the chemotherapy is hair loss.  Now this is a common side effect that many women immediately think about at the onset of their treatment.  They know that the possibility is great, but no matter how well they prepare for losing their hair, they are never fully prepared.  Unfortunately, hair defines a lot about women.  It signifies them in many different ways.  At the risk of sounding sexist, this is more common among women than men, and that is why it is not being directed towards men.  Society has played a huge role in how women perceive themselves.  A women’s perception of herself is highly dependent on appearance – as ridiculous as that sounds, there is a lot of truth to that statement.

When a woman loses her hair, she will also lose confidence.  She will feel unattractive at all levels.  If a woman was insecure prior to her cancer, the loss of her hair will trigger an element of insecurity that is extremely intense.  If the cancer victim is married, she will need undivided attention and support from her spouse, and friends.  Establishing her worth beyond her hair is critical. The reaction of others is also hard on a woman as well, especially if she has children.  Children do not understand the side effects of treatment and seeing their mother’s appearance altered is painfully hard for them.  And while most mothers understand that truth, seeing their children’s reaction still strips another layer of self-esteem away.  Although the hair will definitely grow back, it does have its emotional side effects as well.

For women, experiencing a form of women’s cancer that will take a horrendous toll on their self-esteem will require counseling to help her get through the journey.  Women who have a mastectomy struggle the most.  The very visible evidence that they no longer have a breast is often too hard for a woman to take.  The once perfect body is now deformed and there is no way to prepare you or to prepare a spouse for that type of significant change.  For the woman, getting used to a body without a breast or breasts will take a lot of time, but getting used to the emotional reality of not having a breast can a take a lifetime.  We live in a world where there is such a large emphasis on breasts and breast size and when that part of a woman is taken it can often leave her feeling worthless.  Many women never fully recover from their mastectomies.

Woman also experiences that type of emptiness and worthlessness when they have their uterus and ovaries removed.  Although these parts of a woman are not visibly seen, they have a deep effect on the woman.  Many women who experience loss of these organs and parts feel like what signifies them as a woman has been stripped from them leaving them with a huge identity crisis.

There are also the other side effects that can brutally attack the self-esteem like erectile dysfunction, inability to become aroused, and loss of sexual desire.  These emotional side effects can reduce a person down to a level of hopelessness as well.  As the person endures and experiences these grueling side effects, family members should also gain an understanding of what they are going through.

Understanding cancer and how to deal with the disease is comparatively simple as opposed to dealing with the emotional and psychological elements of the disease.  Treatment of cancer should be accompanied by constant professional counseling.  Walking through the pain and adjusting to a life without hair, without breasts, physically unable to perform can bring a person to their breaking point and make them not want to fight.  With proper counseling and support, a person can slowly embrace everything their illness takes from them, and learn how to fight back and become more than they ever were.  Surviving cancer is not just surviving the physical part of the disease.  It is not just about overcoming an illness, it is also about learning to love yourself and embrace yourself as you slowly change, and learn to fight your way back to an even better person than you once were.

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