Body image matters for cancer patients

cancer patient

Patient Sherry Hansen with her daughter Allie.

Cancer treatment is hard on your body and, in some cases, changes are permanent. Sometimes cancer patients become so focused on getting rid of their cancer, they don’t bring up body image issues with their oncologists. In writing Body Image Matters, a patient story in Thrive, I learned they should.

Sherry Hansen is a breast cancer survivor, 14 years and counting. She had surgery to remove her breast, but didn’t have time to think about reconstructive surgery at the time of her diagnosis. She had a 3-year-old daughter to take care of. Sherry described to me in detail the way she felt the first time she looked in the mirror when her bandages were removed. No one had prepared her for the change in her body. No one was there when she saw it for the first time.

This should never happen to a patient and, were Sherry diagnosed at the U-M Cancer Center, perhaps her emotional response would have been different. By the time she came to U-M, depression had set in. She’s doing great now, but it was a long road to recovery.

Michelle Riba, M.D., who directs the PsychOncology Program here, explains that body image concerns go way beyond cosmetic to functioning, socialization and how a person feels about oneself. It’s important for patients to be prepared and understand how their cancer treatment can change their bodies.

Whether you’ve experienced hair loss, weight gain or loss, swelling, loss of a body part or another loss of body function, the Cancer Center has a whole group of specialists to help you through it. Take a look at Sherry’s story in Thrive to see how she went from depression to the final stages of reconstruction.

Take the next step:

  • Learn about the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center’s PsychOncology Program.
  • Find support services for cancer patients and their families at the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center.

    Thrive spring 14Thrive magazine is a quarterly publication of the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center, offering inspirational patient stories, news and information on programs and services, tips on coping and living with cancer and more. Find Thrive in the Cancer Center or online.



University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer CenterThe University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s 1,000 doctors, nurses, care givers and researchers are united by one thought: to deliver the highest quality, compassionate care while working to conquer cancer through innovation and collaboration. The center is among the top-ranked national cancer programs, and #1 in Michigan according to U.S. News & World Report. Our multidisciplinary clinics offer one-stop access to teams of specialists for personalized treatment plans, part of the ideal patient care experience. Patients also benefit through access to promising new cancer therapies.