Managing other people’s reactions

Learning to cope with social situations and other people’s reactions will help build your confidence. You’ll often find people take much less notice of your appearance than you expected.

Being assertive can also help you face worrying situations. It means being able to ask for help and knowing you have the right to be treated with respect.

Social skills can help you to appear more confident and to take control of your situation. You can try to make eye contact, smile, and stand with your shoulders back and head up.

Preparing answers to difficult questions in advance is often helpful. You could give a brief reply and change the subject, or say you don’t want to talk about it. You might prefer to bring up the subject of your body change yourself. It's up to you how much you want to tell.

If someone is staring or making remarks you can let them know you want it to stop using an assertive look, nod, or asking them to stop. Young children sometimes ask blunt questions but are usually satisfied with a simple explanation.

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Coping with other people’s reactions

As you and the people close to you get used to your body changes, you may begin to think about seeing other people. If you have visible changes to your appearance, you may worry about other people’s reactions.

Occasionally, some people may make insensitive remarks or unwelcome suggestions. But you’ll probably find most people take far less notice of you than you expected. Other people will soon respond to you as a person and not to your appearance.

Learning how to cope with social situations helps build up your confidence. This will help you slowly get back to your usual day-to-day activities. This can include returning to work or doing any hobbies or sports you did before.

Being assertive

Learning how to be assertive can help you communicate better with other people.

Assertiveness means facing situations that worry you instead of avoiding them. It means giving your point of view but not getting angry with people when you can’t do something. Being assertive is being able to ask for help and knowing you have the right to:

  • say what you need
  • be treated with respect
  • make a request
  • be honest.

Dealing with awkward questions

People may want to talk to you to see how you are, or to understand what has happened. It may help to think in advance about the questions you may be asked and some possible answers.

What you tell other people depends on:

  • how much you want to say and how you feel about your body change
  • your relationship with the other person
  • where you are and whether other people are around.

You can think of different responses, to prepare you for different situations. You could say you don’t want to talk about it and smile, even if you don’t feel like it, and reassure them that you’re fine. Most people ask because they're concerned, and this is a good way of stopping the conversation without causing tension. Or you could give a short response and distract the person by asking them a question or changing the subject. Some people find it helps them feel more in control if they bring up the subject of their body change themselves.

Here are some examples of things you could say:

  • ‘Thank you for asking, but I’d rather not talk about it at the moment. Don’t worry, I’m doing fine.’
  • ‘I had an operation to remove a cancer a few weeks ago and I’m recovering well. How are you – what have you been doing lately?
  • ‘I’ve lost my hair because I’m having chemotherapy. But it will grow back when the treatment’s finished. I really like the way your hair is styled – where do you get it done? ’
  • ‘You’ve probably noticed I’ve put on weight. It’s a side effect of some drugs I’m taking for my cancer treatment. But I’m not worrying about it too much right now.’
  • ‘I had my operation to remove the cancer and I’m getting used to the changes, but it will take a while.’

Using your social skills

Social skills help you take control of difficult social situations and manage other people’s reactions to your change in appearance. But if you’re feeling anxious or low, it can be hard to appear confident and sociable. Try these approaches and see what works for you:

  • Engaging with people – Making eye contact, smiling and nodding tells people you’re 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. For example, you could wear clothes and accessories that make you feel more confident.
  • Taking the initiative – To help you feel more in control, you might want to bring up the subject of your body changes at the right time in a conversation.

These skills aren’t 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

You don’t have to put up with staring or negative remarks. It’s fine to let the person know you’re aware of it and want it to stop. Sometimes people don’t know they are staring. It only takes a frown or an assertive look from you to help them realise. You can also use other non-verbal signals, such as nodding, smiling or raising your eyebrows. Or you can say something, for example, ‘Please don’t stare at me. It’s only a scar.’

If you are in a situation where you can’t walk away and don’t 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 sometimes ask blunt questions. They’re curious and don't mean any harm, but without a response, they may carry on asking. You could try giving them a simple explanation they can understand. This might be all it takes.

Back to Cancer and body image

Relationships, intimacy and sex

Cancer and its treatments can affect your sex life and relationships. Talking openly and taking the time to get used to possible body changes can help.

Helping you take control

Setting realistic goals, dealing with problems in a structured way and challenging unhelpful thinking can help you take control.

Changing the way you think

Being aware of your thoughts may help you notice unhelpful thinking patterns. It can then allow you to challenge these.