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The diagnosis of cancer is a deeply emotional and sensitive topic for clients, which needs a careful handling and sensitivity. Learning of your client’s cancer diagnosis can also unleash your own emotions, which can be difficult to maneuver and manage. During October, while we are raising money to help women around the United States access special scalp cooling treatments, we have also gathered some tips from experts communication and psychology to help you navigate sensitive conversations with empathy, tact, and respect:

1 – Listen Actively
  • Be present and give your full attention when the client is speaking.
  • Avoid interrupting. Sometimes, the most comforting thing you can do is listen.
2 – Express Empathy:
  • Genuine expressions like, “I’m so sorry to hear that,” can convey your concern without being invasive.
  • Avoid saying things like, “I know how you feel,” because every person’s experience with cancer is unique.
3 – Avoid Probing:
  • Unless the client offers details voluntarily, avoid asking specific questions about their diagnosis, treatment, or prognosis. Some people may not be comfortable discussing the specifics, especially in a setting they associate with relaxation or pampering.
4 – Be Reassuring:
  • If they’re concerned about hair loss due to chemotherapy or other treatments, discuss options available to help them through this process. Over 8% of women diagnosed refuse treatment because of fear of hair loss. Discuss with them scalp cooling options, which has funding available from charities like HairToStay, and there are also many styling options available, including wigs, scarves, and other accessories. You can offer to help them through that process if they’re interested.
5 – Maintain Confidentiality:
  • Never share a client’s personal information or health status with others. Respect their privacy.
  • The salon can be a sanctuary for clients—a place where they feel pampered and taken care of. This can become even more important to a client going through a cancer battle.
6 – Educate Yourself:
  • Familiarize yourself with the basics of cancer treatments and their effects on hair, so you can provide knowledgeable advice if asked.
  • There are specific products and care routines that can be beneficial for individuals undergoing cancer treatments.
7 – Avoid Clichés and Platitudes:
  • Phrases like “Everything happens for a reason” or “Stay positive” might come off as dismissive or insincere, even if they’re well-intended.
8 – Follow the Client’s Lead:
  • If they want to discuss their diagnosis, be there to listen. If they prefer to chat about a different topic, or simply enjoy a quiet session, respect that choice.
9 – Offer Flexibility:
  • Understand that they might need to reschedule appointments due to treatments or not feeling well. Being accommodating can reduce their stress.
  • Consider offering out of hours appointments if they are uncomfortable being vulnerable in front of others. This can be especially important should they decide to remove their hair, be fitted with a wig, or are particularly emotional.
10 – Check Your Emotions:
  • It’s natural to feel empathy, sadness, or even shock, but try to maintain a calm and supportive demeanor. Your goal is to provide comfort and normalcy.
  • Authenticity matters. It’s okay to admit if you’re unsure about something or if you don’t know what to say. Often, a simple “I’m here for you” is enough.

Remember, while you’re there to offer support, and likely have a special relationship with your client, you are not a therapist or counselor. If a client seems to be struggling emotionally, it might be helpful to have information on local support groups or therapists that specialize in helping individuals with cancer. And remember to take care of yourself, too.

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