Treatment for eye cancer may change your appearance. There are things you can do that may help you to cope with these changes.
Changes to your face
Surgery to your eye may change the way you look.
Modern surgical techniques and reconstructive surgery means that you are less likely to have much scarring, even with very big operations. But if you do have scarring it can affect the way you feel about yourself and how you think others might see you.
Your surgeons will do all they can to make incisions on your face along the lines of any creases already there. With time, many scars will fade and be far less visible. Even if you are aware of them, other people may not notice.
If the surgeon removes your eye, this means adjusting to having an artificial eye. Even if other people don’t notice it, you are still aware that you look different. The change in your appearance can be hard to get used to.
How you feel about yourself
How you look can be an important part of how you feel about yourself. It can be difficult to accept sudden changes to your looks. You may feel worried about how your friends and family see you. You may also worry about being physically attractive to your partner.
Going back to work, meeting new people and going for job interviews can all be more of a struggle if you are trying to cope with changes in your appearance. If you have children you may worry how their friends will see you and if that will affect your children.
It’s normal to worry about these things. Remember that those people who are most important to you will not view you any differently as a person. Sharing your feelings with the people close to you can make you feel less isolated and more able to cope with things.
Things that may help you cope
There are several things you can do to help you cope with changes in your looks. They may not take away all the negative feelings but might make things gradually easier.
Talking to your surgeon
This is probably one of the most important things you can do. Even if you don't want to know exactly what the surgeon will do, it will help you deal with things later on. Ask your surgeon to be very honest with you about the surgery and how you will look afterwards.
Your eyes and face are likely to be very swollen and sore immediately after your surgery. This is temporary and not how you will look forever. Your surgeon and specialist nurse will be able to reassure you.
Talking to someone who has had a similar experience
Some people find it helpful to speak with someone else who has had surgery that changes the way they look. Your doctor or nurse may be able to put you in touch with someone who has had a similar operation to yours.
The specialist organisations for eye disease or injury may also be able to help you. Of course you may not want to talk to someone else, at least not straightaway, so don’t feel that you have to do this.
Looking in the mirror
Your first reaction after your surgery might be that you don't want to look at yourself. This is completely your decision. It is often better to wait until a few days after your operation when the swelling has gone down a little and you have recovered a bit.
Your face is likely to be very swollen at first and a bit numb. It's best that someone is there to support you when you first see yourself. They can answer any questions that you have.
Many people feel very angry at first and wish that they hadn't had the operation. You might feel that you weren't prepared well enough beforehand.
Give yourself some time to adjust. You will feel a bit better about things as time goes on and the swelling and bruising settles.
The staff will be very aware of your feelings and will do all they can to support and reassure you. They can refer you for counselling if you would like it.
Talking to people close to you
You might get the best support from your close family and friends. Do not be surprised if they are not sure what to say to you at first.
They will not want to make you feel anxious or to say anything that might upset you. It may be easier if you bring the subject up and let them know how you feel.
You will be surprised how much it can help just to share your feelings. Those close to you may feel privileged that you have chosen to confide in them. If you don’t talk to them, they may worry that you are bottling it all up.
If you are having problems with your intimate and sexual relationships because you feel unattractive, let your partner know.
Tips to help hide changes
You may decide to wear sunglasses to hide any changes to your eyes. It’s unlikely that surgery will affect your face and neck, apart from temporary swelling and bruising.
If you have any scars or skin grafts that are a different colour, there is make up available to cover it up. It is called camouflage make up and you can get it on prescription from your GP. There are organisations that teach you how to apply it, and can advise on the best products to buy. These include:
Some head and neck clinical nurse specialists are also trained in applying this make up and will be able to give you some lessons or advice.
You can also divert attention from scarring around the eyes by wearing glasses or sunglasses. Trying to do too much to hide scars or changes does not always help. Experiment and do what makes you feel the most comfortable.
Getting help and support
Not everyone feels comfortable asking for help and support from people they have not met, but many people find it very useful. There are a number of organisations and support groups that help people to cope with changes in their sight and the way they look.
If you would like to talk to someone outside your own friends and family, the general cancer organisations section can put you in touch with people who can offer support.