How to Help a Friend With Metastatic Melanoma

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

When a friend is diagnosed with metastatic melanoma, as much as you want to be there for her, you may not know what to do. Should you reach out? Will you be intruding if you visit? What's the best way to help someone with this serious form of skin cancer? Keep reading for tips on how you can help a pal who's facing this health crisis.

Help Sort Through the Overwhelming Information

When someone is diagnosed with metastatic melanoma, they have a slew of doctor appointments, and many of these visits are filled with an overwhelming amount of information on the diagnosis, treatment options, and prognosis. Offer to attend doctors’ appointments and take notes. You can be a second set of ears and ask questions if necessary.

Focus on Your Friend’s Unique Needs

You might feel compelled to cheer your friend up, talk through any awkward silences, or keep them busy. But each person with cancer has unique needs, and those needs tend to change from day to day. Instead of deciding what you think your friend needs, ask and listen. There may be times they want to go out, and times when they don’t have the energy to leave the house. A cancer diagnosis can make even the strongest person feel helpless. Let them know it's okay to voice what they're feeling, or simply sit together in silence.

Listen to Them

Allow your friend to share her experiences without judging or offering advice. Sometimes they may need to vent about how awful cancer treatment is, or even talk about how frightened they are about the prospect of dying. Resist the urge to change the subject. Let them talk! Lending an ear and being present, even when you're feeling a little uncomfortable, is often the best way to help.

Woman typing online.
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Educate Yourself About Metastatic Melanoma

Take the time to learn about metastatic melanoma and what resources are available. Every illness has its own language, and your friend might appreciate someone else knowing what all of these new terms mean. Read about metastatic melanoma, the treatment, and the vocabulary so not only can you follow along as your friend discusses treatment, you're also more aware of what they are going through. The more you know, the more effective a support you'll be.

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Don’t Offer Unsolicited Advice

It's tempting to go there, and it seems innocent enough, but try to keep your ideas about potential cures, prayers, and positive thinking to yourself. While you may feel that you're being helpful, these types of comments can leave a person [feeling worse] (https://www.cancer.net/coping-with-cancer/talking-with-family-and-friends/supporting-friend-who-has-cancer). Unless your friend wants to disuss them, it’s best to keep God and spiritual beliefs out of the conversation.

Don’t Tell Them Everything Will Be OK

Well-meaning friends may reflexively say, “It will all be OK,” or “I know you will beat this.” But there is a good chance it won’t be OK, and they won’t beat it. So it's best to avoid these types of sentiments. Instead, say, “I am so sorry you are going through this,” “This must be difficult for you,” or “I'm here for whatever you need.”

Offer Practical Help

Find out what is most distressing to your friend and try to help with that. For example, they might dread having to tell friends and neighbors about their latest cancer news, repeating the same information continuously. Maybe you could make that easier, perhaps by creating a simple website for your pal to share medical updates. Or maybe supermarket shopping each week is exhausting, and you can order their grocery delivery. Ask what one task you could do to help. Better yet: Just suggest one.

Focus on Their Hobbies

Make plans for fun activities, but since fun is highly personal, make sure they're things your friend actually enjoys. One sure bet: Help your pal continue to participate in their hobbies, even if they can’t do so at the same level as they did when they were healthy. For example, if your friend is a reader but finds it difficult to focus on books, read aloud, or listen to audiobooks together. If they enjoy gardening but can’t, set up a chair outside so they can supervise your planting. If your friend cultivates a collection, spend the afternoon searching online for new additions to their trove.

Help With Household Tasks

Cancer treatment can really knock you out. It's understandable that people undergoing treatment for metastatic melanoma often don’t have the energy for household tasks. Help with cooking, cleaning, and laundry is usually appreciated. Consider preparing double dinners at home and then bringing the extras to your friend each week. Drop off a gift card for a housekeeping or laundry service. Your pal will be grateful!

Be There, Physically and Emotionally

It sounds obvious, but it's so important: Spend time with your friend with metastatic melanoma. Texts, Facebook messages, and phone calls are nice, but they just don't compare to taking the time (or the long drive) to visit, sitting with your friend, offering a shoulder to cry on— just being there. Of course, you'll want to give fair warning and arrange a time that works for them, but as long as they're receptive to visits, make it happen.

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Don’t Help at First and Forget to Come Back Later

Metastatic melanoma is a marathon, not a sprint, and frequently, patients need ongoing help. In the beginning, friends tend to be there with a blizzard of offerings, but that assistance often fades away. It's wonderful to give a lot of time and attention in the early days, but also commit to helping for one to two hours a week for as long as your friend needs assistance. She'd do the same for you!

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.