Blogger Georgie Swallows, 27, says that finding fun ways to think about her changing looks during cancer helped her overcome some of the self-image difficulties she had after her cancer diagnosis.
When Swallows was first diagnosed with stage four Hodgkin’s lymphoma she underwent six months of chemotherapy treatment. After going into remission, her disease came back this June.READ MORE
“There was a period when my mental health took a dip as I didn’t recognize myself anymore, but I needed to feel bad to feel good,” Swallows said in a recent interview with The Sun about her initial diagnosis.
“My looks changing really did affect me,” she continued, “so even though I was down about how I couldn’t recognize myself, I picked myself up by finding the fun and comparing my noggin to different objects and wearing crazy colored wigs.”
Swallows has written throughout her cancer journey on topics like the dilemmas and decisions she has had to face as a patient, the difficulty of having a cancer relapse, the friends she’s made within the cancer communities, and relationships during cancer.
Body image and cancer
Unfortunately, cancer treatment often alters the way someone looks … even though a lot of those changes are temporary, it can be really hard to live with during treatment. “My confidence was gone,” says Jaclyn Kaczynski, who was diagnosed with breast cancer at 37 years old and found it really threw her body image off track. “My confidence was destroyed. I was always vain about my appearance and my weight, let alone losing a breast, or both.”
Breast cancer survivor Jaclyn Kaczynski talks about confidence and body image during cancer treatment
Jaclyn says that she gained a lot of weight during treatment, and that, combined with losing her breasts, really did a number on how she felt about her own body. A lot of women struggle to feel like themselves again after breast cancer treatment. Members of the SurvivorNet community also tell us that deciding between reconstruction or embracing a life without breasts is a really tough decision. While many women decide to “go flat,” meaning they don’t have their breasts reconstructed, others simply don’t feel like themselves after surgery.
In Jaclyn’s case, she went the reconstruction route. “I just had my reconstructive surgery … my favorite doctor was able to make it happen for me. It’s amazing how much more confidence I have … my hair is growing back, for real.” Jaclyn says she’s feeling so good about herself she’s even starting to date again – “I’m keeping my options open.”
Georgie’s journey with Hodkin’s Lymphoma
In the introduction to Georgie’s blog, she talks a lot about what it means to be brave, which she says is a word she’s met with constantly. “Brave… This is a word I hear often these days. Not because I am challenging myself to climb Everest or perhaps even learning the trade of a lion tamer. No, I’m brave because I am endeavouring to live.”
She says that trying to get healthy is her form of bravery, “That’s it essentially. I am brave because I am continuing to seek medical treatment for a disease trying to kill me.”
And also asks herself some philosophical questions, “Are we braver now, because of cancer, or perhaps have we just realized our time is limited?”
When Georgie was first diagnosed, she was totally caught off guard by the disease. “My diagnosis was such a shock, I had been to the doctors three or four times before in the year as I had the most unscratchable itch, I cut certain foods as I thought it might have been an allergy and I was told it was eczema by doctors,” said.
And she thought some of her symptoms were related to her lifestyle, “I lost two stone in four weeks but at the time I was drinking meal replacement shakes so I thought they were amazing, I recommended it to all of my friends.”
Only to realize they were symptoms of cancer, “Unbeknownst to me, it was another symptom of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, I only started to worry and research my symptoms when I suffered a month long bout of flu and woke up with a huge plum-sized lump in my throat.”
She said she’d thought for a moment she might have cancer, but didn’t take the possibility seriously, “I self-diagnosed myself with cancer but talked myself out of it as there’s the joke of ‘don’t Google your symptoms as it will say you have cancer,’ but this time I actually did.”
After the initial diagnosis, things started moving quickly. “It all happened so fast, I had a CT scan, biopsy and more tests then the following day I started chemotherapy in September 2018.
And that was a good thing, because she had to keep moving forward, “The speed was a blessing, I didn’t have time to think, the day I was told I got my hair chopped off and I brought loads of comfy clothes.
And she kept finding ways to make herself feel better throughout it all, “I just thought of fun ways to make sure cancer doesn’t bring me down, such as bringing a picnic to chemo.”
Information about Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
Unlike leukemia, which is a disease that results from too many white blood cells, lymphomas are white blood cell cancers that form tumors in the lymphatic system. “Quiet literally, lymph is lymphatic system -phoma means tumors, so lymphoma is white blood cell cancer that forms tumors in the lymphatic system,” Dr. Peter Martin at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York Presbyterian, told SurvivorNet. “This is opposed to leukemia, which is too many white blood cells, typically in the bone marrow or blood stream. Lymphomas, specifically, are white blood cell cancers that form tumors in the lymphatic system.” Dr. Martin was not referring specifically to Wilson’s case.
Within lymphoma, there are Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s cases. “Hodgkins lymphoma is simply a white blood cell cancer that has a very specific sub-type of white blood cells seen in those tumors called Reed-Sternburg cells or Hodgkin’s lymphoma cells,” says Dr. Martin.
In 2019, there will be about 8,110 new cases of Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosed, and about 1,000 deaths due to the disease. Young people and adults can get Hodkin’s Lymphoma, but it’s most common in young adults before the age of 20. The risk rises again after age 55.