Thirty-four-year-old Angela Gass has difficulty swallowing and speaking. She lost part of her tongue and jawbone to a 12-year battle with cancer. “They reconstructed all of it using other parts of my body,” says Angela. The fight to survive the cancer and the numerous surgeries eventually took more than just a physical toll.
“I was depressed. I was embarrassed and I didn’t want to leave my house,” says Angie.
She enrolled in the pilot phase of a body image therapy program underway at MD Anderson Hospital in Houston. “Patients don’t feel at times comfortable talking with their doctor or healthcare providers about these issues,” says Michelle Fingeret, Ph.D., a behavioral scientist
Issues like feeling guilty about appearance-related concerns and dealing with social situations.
“A lot of times a patient will just start crying to me right away and saying you know no one’s ever talked to me about this before and I don’t feel, I feel so vain or I feel ashamed or guilty about bringing this up when I should just be happy I’m getting my cancer treated and I’m surviving cancer right now.”
“It kind of took weight off of me knowing it was okay to feel that way.”
A counselor initially meets with patients in person but also counsels them by phone for convenience. She discusses their concerns, helps them set goals and celebrates milestones with them.
“I think my first assignment was to go to the grocery store and not cover my face.”
“One of the phrases I tell people sometimes is fake it until you make it. Keep working at it and it will become more natural to you.”
The program helped Angela make an important decision about the rest of her life.
“Cancer took a lot from me and it wasn’t going to take anything else.” Now, Angela is enjoying the life she’s fought so hard to keep thanks to a program that takes cancer treatment beyond the treatment center.