Iris Mini: Body Image and Dealing with Others’ Perceptions

As your body changes and adapts because of cancer and its treatment, it is not unusual to be apprehensive about how others may see or interact with you. While we can’t control others’ perceptions or reactions, you can completely control how and with whom you communicate about your body.

Some tips for coping with various social interactions and situations include: 

  • Set boundaries/know your limits. Consider social situations in which you feel comfortable and identify those where you might not feel comfortable right now. Your comfort level with your body and who you choose to interact with can change over time. You may feel relaxed having lunch with a close friend, but not getting together with a group of work colleagues. Create a grid to help you organize your thoughts and preferences. Think about what feelings influence a “yes," “no," or “maybe” situation.




I am comfortable talking about my upcoming surgery with my best friend. 

I am not comfortable talking about my upcoming surgery on social media. 

I am not sure whether I feel comfortable talking about my upcoming surgery with colleagues. 

I am comfortable going to a concert with my best friend. 

I am not comfortable attending an upcoming high school reunion. 

I am not sure whether I feel comfortable attending my best friend’s holiday party. 

  • Set realistic expectations. Whether it be an unwelcome stare from a stranger on the street or a direct question from a work colleague, be prepared for a potentially uncomfortable and awkward social interaction. Thinking ahead about your boundaries and how much you will disclose to your different social circles can help equip you for unexpected social situations.  

  • Develop a script. You have control over what you choose to share about your cancer experience. Consider developing a script for different situations including with friends, family, colleagues, and potential romantic partners.  

  • Role play. Rehearse your script and prepare for a social interaction with a friend, a trusted loved one, or an Iris mental health therapist. The act of practicing ahead of time can help boost your sense of comfort and confidence going forward. 

  • Be honest and direct. It is important to be honest and direct with others when discussing your cancer experience. Many people find it helpful if you let them know what you wish to talk about and what you prefer not to discuss. Have this discussion with loved ones often, as the ups and downs of cancer treatment can change what areas you feel comfortable discussing and how you need support.  

As you consider what to share about your body and cancer experience, understand that others around you may not know what to say or how to be supportive. Remember that if people ask questions about your body, it maybe coming from a place of curiosity and from a desire to be helpful and supportive.