Helping Breast Cancer Survivors Deal With Body Image Issues

June 19, 2020
Debi Fischer, MSW, BSN, BA, LCSW, RN
Debi Fischer, MSW, BSN, BA, LCSW, RN

Debi Fischer is a nurse at the University of Miami surgical oncology step down unit. Prior to that she worked in orthopedics and neurology for many years. In addition to her nursing experience, she has earned a master’s degree in social work. Becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker was a lon-sought-after goal which she finally attained. She is a caregiver for her family and her dogs as well.

Your patient had a mastectomy and chemotherapy and is recovering on the post-op surgical oncology unit. She has 1 or 2 JPs (Jackson Pratt’s) which are drained on a prn basis and a surgical bra. The physical part of her recovery is in progress, but what about body image issues?

Your patient had a mastectomy and chemotherapy and is recovering on the post-op surgical oncology unit. She has 1 or 2 JPs (Jackson Pratt’s) which are drained on a prn basis and a surgical bra. The physical part of her recovery is in progress, but what about body image issues?

Body Image Issues

A patient once told me that she was not concerned about turning grey. At that point in her journey, multiple rounds of chemo and radical surgery, hair color was not on the top of her to-do list. Does this ring true across the board for all patients with breast cancer? The jury is out on that one. Everyone has their own opinion on how important it is to look good after a mastectomy or a prophylactic double mastectomy for a BRCA 1 /2 positive patient.

A Major Drug Chain and Their Approach

A major drug store chain, Walgreens, has their own approach to this dilemma. Their program “Feel More Like You” has beauty consultants available to help patients deal with issues such as dry skin and hair loss after chemotherapy. These consultants also are familiar with battling the brutal effects of being in the sun as well as nail changes of the hands and feet. In Florida, sun damage is a major concern. Couple this with a mandatory face mask due to COVID-19, and you have a challenge for this patient.

There are also pharmacists ready to help patients cope with the effects of chemotherapy such as the classic adverse event of nausea and emesis, as well as skin rashes, dry mouth and mouth sores. Incidentally, the “Feel More Like You” program was created between the resources of the Cancer Support Community (cancersupportcommunity.org) and “Look Good Feel Better”

(lookgoodfeelbetter.org).

Podcasts for Breast Cancer

There is a program called “Battle Beautifully” which is a podcast dealing with the diametrically opposed concepts of beauty and cancer. Currently, there is a five-part series which Walgreens has created to help cancer patients. The first episode looks at the concept of beauty. Episode two features an interview with noted TV broadcaster Joan Lunden who discusses her battle with breast cancer. Episode three has a visit to Gilda’s Club which highlights patient coping mechanisms. Finally, episode four discusses mouth problems and episode five rounds out the series with a discussion on tattoos. There is a visit with a breast surgeon and two tattoo artists who gives insight to this trend among breast cancer patients.

As a nurse and patient advocate, helping the patient find the right self-care balance after breast cancer treatment is vital to helping a woman maintain her self-image. Looking in the mirror should not be a stressful experience and these issues can be mitigated with knowledge.