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Ovarian Cancer

Body image

In our society there is considerable pressure on women to look attractive and many of all ages and shapes feel unhappy about aspects of their physical appearance. Although a few of the women we talked to said that what was happening to them was too serious for them to think about their appearance, many found that having ovarian cancer and the effects of treatment made them feel unhappy about their body. Women often expressed sympathy for those who were younger, or single, who they thought would have a harder time.

Many women we talked to had often felt ugly, unfeminine or unattractive during or after treatment and had tried to avoid looking in mirrors. Some felt less feminine because they no longer had their reproductive organs, even though this loss was invisible except for the operation scar, whereas others said that they didn't feel this way precisely because it was far less visible than, for example, having a breast removed. Some disliked the appearance of their operation scars. A woman who had been left without a belly button felt deformed. Another felt less of a woman because she had been left with a colostomy (see 'Surgery').

 

Felt less of a woman because her 'female bits' had been removed.

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Felt less of a woman because her 'female bits' had been removed.

Age at interview: 42
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 40
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I think also there's an issue with having your female bits taken away. Even if you're not consciously aware of it, you know, obviously you have a scar and you know that your ovaries are not, I don't know why that should affect you but it does, you know you don't feel as much of a woman because of that. And I think, that equally must be the case if you have mastectomies as well but that's more evident because it's obviously external.

 

Felt deformed to have no navel after her hysterectomy.

Felt deformed to have no navel after her hysterectomy.

Age at interview: 43
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 41
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I have no navel, which I find quite horrendous, you know. I must, it must feel like somebody that has breast cancer that loses a breast, as much as you think your navel doesn't mean a lot, it does if you don't have it. You know, it is quite strange to have no navel. But that's just, I mean it doesn't matter, I can live without it, but that's like a deformity to me, you know.

 

Felt less of a woman because her surgery left her with a colostomy.

Felt less of a woman because her surgery left her with a colostomy.

Age at interview: 48
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 46
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And is your colostomy permanent?

I pray God that it will never be permanent, because it's not a good thing for a lady because every day you bath, when you change, you cannot even, you know, I feel that I'm half a woman, you know, I don't know how to put it, I'm little bit confused because it sometimes you mess around without knowing what is happening.

Some women were upset by losing their hair, both from their heads and their bodies, as a result of chemotherapy (see 'Unwanted effects of chemotherapy') because it reminded them and other people of their illness. However, other women found this easier to accept, and one said she enjoyed the sympathy it evoked. Others tried to avoid hair loss by the treatment choices they made (see 'Treatment decisions' and 'Clinical trials'). 

Some women were upset because they gained weight during their treatment, which they put down to the steroids they took with their chemotherapy. In addition to putting on weight and losing all her hair, one woman developed a hernia as a result of her surgery (see 'Treatment complications'), which with her scars gave her a 'comedy body'. Other women lost weight during their illness and disliked feeling 'scrawny' or, as one said, like a 'skinny little thing with no hair'.

 

Felt the baldness, weight gain, scars and hernia after her treatment combined to form a 'comedy...

Felt the baldness, weight gain, scars and hernia after her treatment combined to form a 'comedy...

Age at interview: 41
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 38
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So on top of being bald, overweight, oh at my worst I was fifteen stone so I was charming, and it's taken forever to lose any weight since. I also had this enormous bulge. I have intestines that had just escaped through the muscle wall, so it wasn't particularly attractive and I wasn't either. 

As far as the surgery goes, I mean that's such a big issue, that's quite a difficult issue. I looked grimly fiendish with my clothes off, and the fact that, you know, I was left with this hernia for such a long time that got bigger and bigger, that this comedy steroid body looked even more bizarre, you know, not being able to wear any clothes. And I thought 'blow me I'm not going to go and buy enormous clothes', you know, because somewhere in the back of your mind, you know, 'I'm going to have an operation, I'm going to look at lot thinner'. Well the reality is not as such, you know, because you've got the effects of the steroids and also, you know, it's a long time before your body recovers from the surgery, to get back to a more normal size. I mean I'm still a very big size but that's something I'm working on. 

It could be difficult to find comfortable clothes when recovering from surgery, or while weight was still yo-yoing. Despite these problems some women said they still enjoyed dressing up to go out, or made a big effort to look their best. Several described going to 'Look good feel better' beauty sessions for women receiving cancer treatment. However, some women don't like the idea of painting their faces (see 'Unwanted effects of chemotherapy'). Several women took comfort from their husbands and partners who had been very understanding and who assured them that scars and changed appearance were immaterial - the most important thing was that they were 'still there'.

 

Felt ugly after her treatment, so made a big effort to look her best.

Felt ugly after her treatment, so made a big effort to look her best.

Age at interview: 50
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 47
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Yeah, yeah, I mean at first I felt quite ugly, you know, because of the hysterectomy and the bald head and so I've really gone out and I look after myself now, you know, and I go the hairdresser's a lot, have my roots done and my nails and try to keep my figure looking good. I try to keep fit and slim.  

 

Attended a 'look good, feel better' beauty session to counteract the effects of chemotherapy.

Attended a 'look good, feel better' beauty session to counteract the effects of chemotherapy.

Age at interview: 44
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 38
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And we were actually treated to things like hand massages, we had a day where some of the cosmetic companies put on a 'Look good, feel better' initiative and we were all brought together round a table to be given a little treat of make-up and how to make yourself look better when you had no hair, no eyebrows or eyelashes, and your cheeks were out to here with anti sickness drugs. And we had a bit of a laugh and something like that is great as well because it, I think certainly for females it helps if you can try and make yourself feel a little bit more confident, and I think may be we can do that with make-up where men can't, and maybe that helps to give us back our self esteem a little bit.  

 

Her husband was not concerned about her changed appearance and still made her feel feminine.

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Her husband was not concerned about her changed appearance and still made her feel feminine.

Age at interview: 42
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 41
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And I mean my husband is very good about sort of, he doesn't, as long as I'm there he doesn't care what I look like or, you know, sort of having gone through this as long as I'm still here then, you know, he's not bothered. And he's making, you know, he's good at making you feel sort of feminine, you know, the same as I was really. So no, no problems.


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Last reviewed June 2016.

Last updated June 2016.

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