Talking With Friends About Skin Cancer

Last updated: January 2023

The other night, I sat with a group of fairly new friends for supper and a discussion of life and faith as part of a community group that meets every other Friday evening on Long Island. It’s a wonderful time to talk about things that really matter to us. It’s a multi-cultural group that extends mutual care and concern. It’s really a lovely environment to share life together.

The hosts are lovely folks who are of South Asian heritage and had just returned from a few days in the Caribbean. I made the usual casual conversation about how cold things are in New York these days and asked about their vacation. The conversation turned to the amount of sun that they got and how one person seemed to have been particularly affected. My ears perked up.

Should I speak up about safe sun practices?

In my mind, I thought about my immediate response. I haven’t know these people for long and wondered what was appropriate. I thought that we were beginning a great friendship and were already sharing important things and felt that good skin care practices could be on that list of conversation topics. But, I also didn’t want to overstep and dive in on a topic that could dampen their post vacation high, especially among a group of newly made friends.

I waited. The evening went on and we all continued to get to know each other. Eventually my work with SkinCancer.net became a topic. I had just had my dermatologist appointment a few hours earlier. I had some tissue removed for a biopsy and cryotherapy on my face. The conversation was redirected to my friends with darker complected skin who had just returned from a beautiful beach vacation.

Educating without judgement

Without going into too many details, I wanted to share how things went. As it turns out, this became a good opportunity to discuss sun exposure for people with darker skin. It was a time for sharing information in a safe and sensitive way. My reality is that I know some people who don’t have a great understanding of how sun exposure can affect people of all skin tones and ethnicities. I saw this as a chance to love them without lecturing them, care for them without embarrassing them.

Tips for skin cancer and sun safety conversations

Here are my tips for talking to friends about their sun exposure:

  • Ask questions for clear picture of their understanding. Don’t jump to conclusions.
  • Be a good listener. Don’t formulate your answers while they are talking.
  • Speak in terms of being a learner and you are just sharing information.
  • Give some manageable action points and offer to help -- if they want it.
  • Be assuring and realize that once you bring up the topic, you might have to join them in their journey.
  • Smile a lot.

In this situation, the action point to start was a regular dermatologist appointment each year and to monitor one’s skin no matter the skin tone. Also, managing sun exposure is wise for everyone, all the time. I feel like it ended up being a productive part of the overall conversation. One of the people in the group is a nurse and this helped as well. Having someone in the medical field around is such a benefit, but it’s not required for caring for your friends who may just need a little more information.

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