Changes in your appearance

Nasal or sinus cancer and its treatment might change the way you look and how you feel about yourself. But there is support available.

Possible changes in how you look

Surgery for nasal or paranasal sinus cancer might change the way you look.

Surgeons try to keep the changes and scarring as minimal as possible. But you are likely to have some changes. This can be very upsetting and can affect the way you feel about yourself and how you think others see you.

Your surgeons will do all they can to make any scars on your face in the creases already there. In time, many scars fade and are less visible. You might still be very aware of them but other people might not really notice.

If you need to have bones removed from your face, your surgeon can often rebuild (reconstruct) them so that you look as much as you did before as possible. Your surgeon will use bone grafts from other parts of your body to do this.

Surgery to the lips, nose and eye can be harder to hide. If your cancer involves these areas, it is likely that you will have to cope with more changes in the way you look.

If you had radiotherapy, the skin in that area might be darker than before.

How the changes might affect your self esteem

How you look has an effect on your self esteem. It can be very hard to accept sudden changes and you might feel very upset.

You might worry about how your friends and family see you and whether your partner still finds you physically attractive.

Going back to work can be a struggle if you are trying to cope with changes in your appearance.

If you have children you might worry about how this might affect them.

It might be helpful to remember that the people most important to you won't view you any differently as a person. Tell them how you are feeling.

Talking honestly and sharing your feelings will make you feel less isolated and more able to cope.

Things that may help you cope

There are several things that might help you to cope with changes in your looks and make things easier for you.

Talking to your surgeon and nurse specialist before surgery

This is probably one of the most important things you can do. Even if you don't feel at the time that you want to know exactly what the surgeon will do, it really will help you to cope later on.

Ask your surgeon to be very honest with you so that you know how you will look. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Your surgeon and specialist nurse will be aware of how worried you are about changes in your appearance and will be able to reassure you.

You are likely to be very swollen and sore immediately after your surgery. Try to remember that this is only temporary and is not how you will look forever.

Talking to someone who has had a similar experience

Some people find it helpful and reassuring to speak to someone else who has had surgery that changes the way they look.

Your surgeon or nurse specialist might be able to put you in touch with someone who has had a similar operation. Some of the specialist organisations might also be able to help.

Looking at yourself 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. You might also have stitches and changes to your facial structure. So it is 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.

Doing things in your own time

It is important to give yourself some time to adjust to any major changes in your appearance. At some point you will need to go out again and meet people. You might also need to go back to work and do everyday things like shopping.

This might feel very scary at first and you may be tempted to keep putting it off. It can help to first go outside with someone you trust and feel comfortable with. 

People’s reactions can vary. Good friends might react differently to what you expect. Some people might feel shocked and this may show on their faces. Other people may be very at ease and make you feel comfortable very quickly.

Children can often be very honest and ask quite direct questions. It is best to answer very simply and honestly as far as you can.

Don't feel that you have to explain too much to people. You can just say as much as you want to.

Talking to family and friends

Your family and friends might find it hard to know what to say to you. They wouldn't want to make you feel anxious or say anything that might upset you.

It is often easier if you bring up the subject and let them know how you feel about things. It is also a good idea to keep looking at your face every so often so that you get used to the changes. Then you are likely to feel less worried about how other people see you.

If you have problems with your intimate and sexual relationships because of the changes, try telling your partner how you feel.

Make up to help hide changes

You can use specialist make up to cover scars or areas where you have had skin grafts and the skin is a different colour. The make up is called camouflage make up. Your surgeon or GP can prescribe it for you.

There are different colours of make up for all skin tones. The British Association of Skin Camouflage can teach you how to apply it and can advise you on the best products to use.

Some head and neck clinical nurse specialists are also trained in applying this make up and can give you a couple of lessons. You can also get advice from an organisation called Changing Faces.

Other ways of hiding changes

There are several other ways that you can hide changes including:

  • scarves to hide any scars on your neck
  • hats to take the attention away from your face
  • sunglasses to help hide changes to your eyes caused by surgery

Sometimes it is best not to draw attention to the affected area. Trying to do too much to hide scars or changes may not always help. You can experiment and do whatever makes you feel most comfortable.

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