How To Support Your Partner With Skin Cancer
Last updated: April 2023
When someone you love has skin cancer, it launches you both into a whole new world of medical jargon, appointments, procedures, uncertainty and worry. My own skin cancer experience, with melanoma, was a roller coaster ride not only for me but my lovely husband Gareth too. Learning how to support your partner might take some time.
As a skin cancer newbies, it took us a while to figure out how best to support each other through the journey. Everyone’s story will be different, but I wanted to share some things we learned, both during treatment and in the aftermath.
In the beginning: it’s okay to freak out
While I’ll never forget the lurch in my stomach upon hearing the word “melanoma” from my doctor, it was the shock on Gareth’s face when I told him the news that made it feel real. It was a lot for both of us to take in.
At first, I went straight to my native Aussie “No worries, she’ll be right mate” philosophy. Which my husband responded to with his typical Scottish stoicism. But then I admitted, “Actually, I’m feeling kinda scared” and Gareth replied, “Yes. It's a bit of a worry isn’t it?”
This led to an honest chat where we voiced our fears and speculated on what laid ahead. In hindsight, I’m glad that we allowed ourselves to have that moment of shock. I think it’s important to take a breath and feel it all - both patient and partner - before you get on with the practicalities.
For appointments: two’s company
Consider asking your partner if they’d like company when attending their various appointments. If it’s their first skin cancer rodeo, navigating the health care system can be daunting. There’s a lot of information to take in, so having a second pair of ears can be handy. Plus it can be really boring sitting around by yourself in waiting rooms!
I went solo to my appointments for practical reasons, but I was so happy that Gareth could get time off work to travel with me to the hospital 150 miles away where I had my wide excision and sentinel lymph node biopsy. I had not been a patient since I was a baby so I was extremely nervous about going to hospital. Having him around was a balm to my frazzled nerves.
Ask for extra help if you need it
You may be busy being a supportive partner, but this can be a challenging time for you, too. You may need support, whether that’s emotional or practical.
My surgery meant my left arm was out of action for a couple of weeks, making everyday tasks tricky. My husband had to work long hours, so we were lucky that my sister volunteered to stay for a few days to help cook meals… and wash my hair over the bathtub! We were so grateful for her extra working arms.
Remember to have fun
Skin cancer treatment can be a long and tedious process, from the array of appointments and procedures to the excruciating wait for biopsy results. Make sure you and your partner get out and spend some quality time together to take your mind off things. Fresh air and nature always work a treat. Especially if it ends with a coffee and cake pitstop, if you ask me.
Afterwards: assist with mole patrol
Regular skin checks are a part of every skin cancer patient’s life for good. Keeping track of the vast galaxy of freckles and moles on one’s own body can involve a lot of mirrors and contortion. But you as a trusty partner can be oh so helpful, whether it’s checking skin or helping to take photos to keep an eye on any moles we particularly want to monitor.
If you see something, say something
I will forever be grateful to Gareth for nagging me to get the mole on my left forearm checked out. He is a quiet and unassuming guy - it once took him about two years to tell me he didn’t like the brand of bread I was buying! So I knew when he kept mentioning that mole, I had to take action. It proved to be a lifesaver. So if you notice something different happening with your partner's skin, be sure to speak up.
Support your partner!
Whatever you do… just know that we appreciate you and your support!
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