Why having cancer can cause problems with confidence – and tips to help you feel and live better

Having cancer can bring with it big physical and emotional changes. Dealing with cancer, surgery and the side effects of treatment can impact on your self-confidence and the way you feel about your body.

The experience and the uncertainty of going through cancer may also make you feel anxious and affect your self-esteem.

This guide looks at things you can do to feel more confident and live better, including tips and advice from the Live Better With community who have been through the experience of dealing with cancer.

In this guide:

How cancer may affect your confidenceDealing with hair lossSkin and nail issues Helping with your body image |  Boosting your self-esteem

Browse our Feeling Confident range →

How cancer may affect your confidence

Having treatment such as surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy can cause changes to your body, which may make you feel less confident.

Going through the experience of cancer may also make you feel anxious or low and affect your confidence and motivation. Dealing with pain, side effects, and fatigue can impact on your mood and your ability to do day-to-day activities.

It may feel like your life has changed significantly, and you may not feel like doing the things you normally would, like seeing friends or keeping up with your hobbies.

The good news is that you are not alone, and there are lots of things you can do to help take control, minimise the stress, and feel more confident.

Dealing with hair loss

Treatments like chemotherapy can cause changes to the hair on your head, face and body. Your hair might get thinner, or it might fall out completely.

For some people, this is one of the more difficult things to deal with, and it can affect their self-esteem. Planning ahead can help to reduce the stress.

Taking control

Using shampoos and conditioners which are specially designed for people with hair loss can help to make your scalp less irritated, while giving your hair more volume and making it look more healthy.

When it comes to losing eyebrow and eyelash hair, there are a range of cosmetics that can help, including pencils, gels, brow stencils and strengthening mascaras. It’s worth practising ahead of time to find the right look for you.

Find recommended Live Better With products for making you feel more confident about hair loss here.

Choosing the right headwear

If losing your hair becomes inevitable, there are lots of different headwear options out there, including a wide range of attractive headscarves and turbans, hats and beanies, as well as wigs, all of which can help you to feel a bit less exposed and more confident.

“If you are going through strong hair loss, cut your hair. This reduces the pain later and makes you feel in control.” Caroline, Live Better With community member

It’s worth buying headwear that’s made from a natural, breathable material such as bamboo or cotton. If you’re wearing a wig, using a wig liner can help to reduce any sweating or itching and make things more comfortable.

“Get a wig before you need it. Wear it get used to it – let other people get used to it too. When your hair starts to thin/ drop it is far less traumatic and no big deal.” Carol, Live Better With community member

Find recommended Live Better With headwear here.

Browse our Hair loss range →

Some people find that they prefer to accept their baldness and go headwear-free –  bald can be beautiful! At the end of the day it’s all about what works for you. See our guide to Cancer and Hair Loss here.

Skin and nail issues

Cancer and cancer treatment can cause problems with your skin and nails, such as soreness and redness, rashes, itching or dryness. Your skin may feel flaky and your nails may become brittle and weak.

You can help to protect and boost your skin by avoiding harsh cosmetics or cleaning products containing harsh chemicals, and by moisturising your skin regularly.

Browse our Skin Things range →

Keeping hydrated

Using good quality intensive moisturising products, such as creams and body butters will help to keep your nails and skin hydrated and healthy, and feel smoother, helping you to feel more confident.

Natural oils are another excellent way of keeping your nails and skin supple and hydrated, and can boost your skin’s elasticity and strength. If you have had surgery, applying a scar gel or oil will create a waterproof barrier over the area and help with the healing process.

You might also consider taking a hair, skin and nail vitamin supplement. You should always talk to your treatment team first before taking any kind of supplement.

Using cosmetics

Using make-up and other cosmetic products can help you to cover up any areas that you may be worried about. If your complexion feels dull or tired, you can use make-up to highlight your favourite areas and make your skin look and feel brighter.

If you’re looking for make-up tips, there are lots of tutorials online, including some specifically for people with cancer, to help you find the look that’s right for you.

The Live Better With community recommend using cosmetics containing natural ingredients. You can view a range of skin-friendly cosmetics here.

And see our guide to skin issues here.

Helping with your body image

Having cancer can have a big impact on many areas of your life, and it can affect how you feel about yourself and your body image.

If you’ve had surgery for your cancer, such as breast tissue removal surgery (mastectomy) or testicular surgery (orchidectomy), or if you have a stoma, you may feel differently about your body.

You may be dealing with other bodily changes, such as weight loss or gain, or bowel and bladder issues, and this can also make you feel less confident.

Live Better With offers many products which can make you feel more comfortable and in control, including specially designed underwear which offers security and can help to boost your confidence.

Some people worry that their cancer treatment means they are not as attractive as they used to be, or that it changes their identity in some way. This can affect your self-esteem and also your sex life. Read our guide to cancer and sex here.

Talking about it

It’s important to remember that your feelings are natural. Talk to someone you trust, such as a partner or friend. It can also help to talk to a professional counsellor or to join a local or online support group, with other people who have had cancer. The Live Better With community can also provide support and advice.

“Talk with someone you trust and express your feelings. It’s hard to start talking, but so, so much better when you do.” Linda, Live Better With community member

Boosting your self-esteem

When you have cancer, you might feel like you are retreating from ‘normal’ life. Having cancer can make you more limited in what you can do day-to-day. You might feel less independent and like you’ve lost a sense of who you are.

The treatment itself can make you feel tired, stressed and emotional. Such feelings can affect your self-esteem and your social life. You might feel less like going out or meeting people, as a result of tiredness and a lack of self-confidence.

Keeping as active as possible

However, it’s important to maintain as normal a life as you can. Rather than dwelling on what has changed, try to remember how far you have come. Set yourself small, achievable goals like inviting a friend over for a chat or going out to a local coffee house.

Many people also find that being physically active can help with their self-confidence and body image after cancer treatment, for example by doing activities like yoga or dancing.

Read our guide to cancer and doing exercise here.

Using relaxation techniques

Having cancer can be a physical and emotional rollercoaster, and it’s common to feel stressed or anxious.  Many people find that using relaxation techniques, such as yoga, meditation and mindfulness can be very helpful in helping them to relax.

It’s also important to do the things you enjoy, such as listening to music, or treating yourself to a nice relaxing bath. Add some naturally soothing aromatherapy oils to help soak away your stress and anxiety.

There are many useful self-help books available, including I Am Here Now, which include mindfulness exercises and activities to help you to live more in the moment and focus on day-to-day positives.

“This book not only inspired me to pay attention to what has heart and meaning in my everyday life, but also to be ok with my experiences.” Live Better With community member


Browse our Feeling Confident range →

Share your stories and tips

Has cancer affected your confidence? What helped make you feel better? We’d love to hear about your stories and tips, as they could help other people like you. Share your tips with the Live Better With cancer community here.

Find more Live Better With Guides to coping with cancer symptoms and side effects here.