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22 Photos of How Illness Changed People's Bodies (That They're Not Hiding Anymore)

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When life throws a chronic illness your way, you might find yourself struggling to reconcile your “old” self with the changes in lifestyle, diet or hobbies illness can bring about. But your physical appearance can also change – whether it’s a result of surgeries, medication side effects or a direct result of the illness itself. It can be tough to watch your body undergo changes, especially when you feel like you don’t have control over what’s happening. But it can also be a proud visual reminder of how strong you are and how much you’ve overcome.

We asked our Mighty community to share photos of how their bodies may have changed due to chronic illness — but they don’t want to hide anymore. If you find yourself struggling with self-esteem or identity because of how your body has changed, know you are not alone. But also know that no matter how your body changes (or doesn’t!), you are strong, you are beautiful, and you are a warrior.

Here’s what the community shared with us:

1. “These burns right here are from three years of consistent heating pad use due to an undiagnosed stomach illness that creates so much pain and nausea I have to be attached to a heating pad 80 percent of the day just to get some kind of relief. I used to be so ashamed of my burns, but I’m tired of hiding them. They are my proof that I fight an invisible illness that consumes my whole life.”

woman with burns on her stomach from heating pads

2. “My weight gain in four months from an extremely intense version of a very common reaction to amitriptyline. The rapid weight gain was a bit over three years ago, but completely ravaged my metabolism. My skin is covered in stretch marks that quite literally showed up so quickly that some of them first appeared looking more like bleeding blisters. My joints were destroyed and I could barely walk for more than six months because my body couldn’t handle the excess weight.”

before and after photos of a woman who gained weight due to medication

3. “2009: I was 17, a few months away from finishing high school. I had dealt with being a victim of bullying [due to] being disabled and living with spina bifida. I felt life was great and I was about to start a new life soon. 2017: I’m 25, and life didn’t go as I’d planned back in 2009. I graduated high school. I had set myself up to go to college and live a normal life as best as I knew [how]. [Since] being diagnosed with a mental illness, I’ve had to re-create my life a bit… But [because of the] medication I’ve been placed on in that timeframe, I don’t recognize myself. Mental illness may have taken a piece of me away, but it won’t win!”

side by side photos of a man in a wheelchair in 2009 and 2017

4. “My hands are deforming from rheumatoid arthritis. They are always swollen. Only 15 years into diagnosis and age 37, I worry about what they’ll look like in the future. But they show the pain I’ve endured and how hard I have fought for 15 years.”

woman whose hands are bent from rheumatoid arthritis

5. “I have a rare form of dwarfism and my bones are slowly breaking… I’ve had two surgeries so far and more to come. My legs are also affected.”

woman's wrist with broken bone and scar from dwarfism

6. “Having a central line for TPN and feeding/drainage tube in my stomach for digestive tract paralysis. It’s been [challenging] being a teenager with these tubes, but I am proud they’ve kept me alive!”

woman with feeding tube attached to her stomach

7. “Multiple knee surgeries for lack of cartilage. Lupus is definitely difficult to deal with, but I have it – it doesn’t have me.”

woman with stitches on her knee

8. “Chemo treatment made my hair fall out in huge clumps. My son helped me shave my head, but only if we shaved his too. It was hard at first, but now I just don’t care. Plus, bald chicks are adorable!”

woman and son with bald, shaved heads

9. “My scars, or what we call our zippers. This is after I shaved my head for St. Baldrick’s. This was between my third and fourth Chiari revisions. The fourth included skull to C3 fusion. I got the tattoo before I knew I needed another surgery but with us Chiarians there can always be another. The tattoo is my way of raising awareness and adding a little humor.”

woman with scar on the back of her head/neck from chiari

10. “This surgery and bimonthly injections into my face have changed my face shape and movement, probably permanently.”

a woman's face wrapped in a bandage after surgery and injections

11. “Skin tumors from neurofibromatosis. They’re all over my sides, lower back, pelvis and down my left leg. I also have plexiform tumors inside my body, in my sides, on my sciatic nerve and wrapped around my aortic artery.”

woman with scars on her skin


12. “Welp. This was me at 27 when I finally had all my teeth removed. They started falling out of my head at 19 years old. I’m 29 now and have been toothless for two years for a variety of reasons. Thanks, Ehlers-Danlos.”

woman without teeth smiling

13. “This is lipedema. I have painful, large, trunk-like legs that bruise extremely easily. They swell with changes in my hormones. It makes exercising feel almost impossible unless I’m in a pool. It makes the daily walking a person does feel like a marathon. It is largely unaffected by diet and exercise. It showed up at puberty and got worse with each pregnancy.”

woman's legs swollen due to lipedema

14. “I was born with a rare disease called multiple hereditary exostoses. I have hundreds of bone tumors all throughout my body, and the only treatment is surgical intervention. So far I’ve had 42 tumors removed, and have scars all over my legs from my surgeries. I used to be self conscious about my scars; in high school I even tried to cover them up with make-up. Not any more. Now that I’m older, I now understand each scar tells my story, and shows the war I am fighting with MHE. This scar is my favorite one – it’s two feet long and from my most recent surgery where I had 20 tumors removed from my hip and had my hip completely reconstructed. Recovery from that surgery was the hardest one to date, so I wear this scar with pride.”

woman in bathing suit lying on a lounge chair with a long scar down her leg

15. “My peritoneal dialysis catheter. I used to be so ashamed and embarrassed but now I embrace who I am. I am not my illness! [To] everyone who has shared a picture: you all are my heroes and have so much courage!”

woman with tube leading into her stomach

16. “My face is permanently scarred from the lupus lesions. When I’m having a flare-up they burn and blister. They’re all over my body, not just my face. I used to wear make-up every day to cover them. Now I’m too exhausted to bother and I no longer care if people stare.”

woman with scars on her face from lupus

17. “My fibrous dysplasia caused changes in my right leg, but mostly my skull. It’s full of lumps and bumps. One part that really bothers me is the lump on my lower jaw. I’m not afraid to show the world if it means raising awareness.”

woman with a lump on her head

18. “Ehlers-Danlos syndrome left me with these wicked knee braces. People stare but it doesn’t matter. They are my new legs and I love ’em.”

man with knee braces on both legs

19. “Systemic lupus. Destroyed my skin.”

woman with red rash on her arm

20. “Scars and excess skin from weight loss after the diagnosis of Crohn’s disease. Plus my funny-looking belly button.”

woman with excess skin around her abdomen due to weight loss

21. “I recently lost my colon, rectum and anus because of Crohn’s disease and have a permanent ileostomy.”

22. “Got this beauty mark after my brain surgery.”

woman with scar on the side of her head after brain surgery

22 Photos of How Illness Changed People's Bodies (That They're Not Hiding Anymore)
Originally published: June 19, 2017
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