The "Certainly-Don'ts" of Supporting Friends with Skin Cancer
Last updated: April 2022
It’s 2022, and skin cancer is still going strong. You stand a very good chance of knowing someone who has had or is currently experiencing recovery or treatment related to a cancerous lesion.
As skin cancer is a never-ending battle for most people following their first diagnosis, you are highly likely to have a friend or family member who deals with ongoing skin cancer diagnoses and all the recurring emotions that accompany them. Your intentions are good ones and you want to be supportive, but you might feel at a loss in these situations. There are some things you will want to steer clear when supporting loved ones.
Never ask if it is “real” cancer
Skin cancer, contrary to what some believe, is cancer, and it takes a toll on the mind and body. Know that the emotions your friend feels upon hearing the word “cancer” are real and raw. Go with it. Be there and let them vent and voice their worries. Physicians will help them with the specifics and treatment options; you can help them when they feel emotional. Offer an ear and a heart.
Don’t downplay subsequent diagnoses
Each new diagnosis is as concerning as the last. Skin cancer doesn’t dilute over time. Every new biopsy doesn’t yield less of a chance of cancer than the one before it. Reiterate to your loved one that they have been through it before, they were champs, and they will do it again. You can tell them not to worry, but when they do worry, validate their concerns and make them feel strong and heard.
Do not expect them to take part in outdoor events as if nothing has happened
A skin cancer diagnosis will change everything about the way they see the sun. Know that your loved one will likely shy away from events during peak hours, and be prepared to hear a lot about sunscreen, and I mean a lot. Listen. Their advice will make a difference.
Please don’t ask about scarring
It’s a given that every surgical procedure will leave a scar. Your friend doesn’t need to be reminded that they will have a scar across their cheek or down the side of their nose. Tell them they are beautiful and that you are there when they want to scream and say a few choice words. Time does heal all wounds, but be a patient and caring friend while it happens.
Whatever you do, don’t tell them they look pale
This seems like a no-brainer, but you might be surprised to find out how many people separate the sun and skin cancer. Telling a skin cancer patient they “need some sun” is hurtful and puts a pressure on them they certainly don’t need. Staying out of the sun means having healthier skin–for all of us, not just your friend with skin cancer.
Be intentional with your words
Sometimes being supportive means knowing what not to say. Showing concern for a friend with skin cancer can be as simple as lending them a shoulder to cry on and staying away from phrases and questions they may not want to address. Knowing these simple tips will help you become the friend they need during a time when neither of you can find the right words.
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