Managing reactions to changes in appearance

People may react differently to changes in your appearance after cancer treatment. There are ways you can respond to this.

How people might react

If you have visible changes to your appearance, you may find that some people look at you for longer. Usually this is because they are curious and not because they want to upset you.

Occasionally, some people may make insensitive remarks or unwelcome suggestions. But you will probably find that most people notice far less than you expected.

Learning how to cope in advance with social situations will build up your confidence. This will help you gradually get back to things you did before, such as work, sports or hobbies.

Managing other people's reactions

Being assertive

Assertiveness means facing situations that worry you with confidence instead of avoiding them. Learning to be assertive can help you communicate better with other people. It means giving your point of view, being able to ask for help and knowing you have the right to be treated with respect, say what you need, make a request and be honest.

Dealing with awkward questions

People may want to ask questions to see how you are, or understand what has happened. It can help to think about the questions they may ask you and think about what you want to say. You could rehearse this with a friend or by yourself.

Keep what you want to say clear and to the point. You do not need to give long explanations. Look at the other person, stand (or sit) upright and keep a calm tone of voice.

Using social skills

Social skills can help you take control of difficult situations and manage other people’s reactions. If you are feeling anxious or low, it can be hard to appear confident and sociable. But doing something that makes you nervous until you are used to it can help you overcome anxiety.

Try these approaches:

  • Engaging with people – making eye contact, smiling and nodding tells people you are approachable.
  • Posture – standing with your shoulders back and head up makes you look confident and assertive, even if you don’t feel that way.
  • Presentation – the way you present yourself shows other people how you feel about yourself. Try wearing clothes and accessories that make you feel more confident.

These skills are not difficult to learn, but you may need to practise them. They can gradually help you become more confident in managing social situations.

Staring or negative comments

If someone is staring at you, it can feel uncomfortable or upsetting. They are more likely to be staring because they are curious than out of negativity towards you. They may not even be aware they are staring.

It is okay to let them know that you are aware of it and want it to stop. Try these approaches. If one does not work, move on to the next:

  • Look back, smile at them or nod – most people smile back and look away.
  • If it continues, maintain eye contact. For example, try raising your eyebrows or giving an assertive look or nod to help them to realise.
  • Ask a direct question – for example, ‘Can I help you?’ This will usually make them become aware and stop staring.
  • Tell them in a simple, assertive way that you would like it to stop. You could say something like ‘Can you please stop staring at me? It’s only a scar.’

If you are in a situation where you cannot walk away and do not want to draw attention, distract yourself by reading a book or newspaper. Holding it up in front of you can help stop the staring.

Young children will sometimes ask blunt questions out of curiosity. Try giving them a simple explanation they can understand. This is usually all it takes.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 30 September 2019
Next review: 31 March 2022

This content is currently being reviewed. New information will be coming soon.

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