Ask Ada: How Can I Be A Good Maid-Of-Honor With Cancer?

Plus: what to do when an estranged friend is dying.

Welcome to Ask Ada, Folks’ bi-weekly advice column for people impacted by health issues or disability. Want Ada to help you with a problem? Email Ada at or tag @folksstories on Twitter with the #askada hashtag.

Destination Wedding Meets Skin Cancer

Dear Ada,

My cousin and I are both only children and grew up like sisters. Though, we have a complicated relationship. Sometimes we love each other and other times we kind of hate each other, but it always comes back around because we’re family. 

But I feel like I’m at a crossroads. See, I am just getting past treatment for skin cancer and my doctors have explicitly told me that I shouldn’t spend a lot of time in the sun. My entire family knows this, and suddenly, my cousin decides to move up her wedding that was scheduled next year in our hometown to a tropical elopement in two months. Plus, the entire ceremony and reception is on the beach.

Here’s the thing: I’m her maid-of-honor. What should I do? I can’t spend an entire vacation in the sun. But if I don’t go, I’ll be the crappy cousin. But she didn’t even think of me and my health when she changed her entire wedding plans. How do I proceed?

Your cousin made a bold move, and it seems as if something is going on behind the scenes. 

Before you make a decision as to whether or not you should go, I’d suggest you find out what her real motivations are behind moving up the wedding and changing the location to one where you won’t be comfortable — or safe.

Take the time to hear her side without bringing up your own worries about the event if you want to get the full story.

I get your concern and your frustration; however, I do think you can find a way to still attend the wedding and be comfortable that you’re protecting yourself.

Your doctors obviously want you to practice skin safety, but this doesn’t mean you need to hide in your home covered from head to toe. After you talk with your cousin, speak up and ask her if she can make some small changes to the event so that you’ll feel more comfortable.

Your doctors obviously want you to practice skin safety, but this doesn’t mean you need to hide in your home covered from head to toe.

First, let her know that you’ll need to wear a cardigan or a shawl with sleeves any time you’ll be in the sun. If the dresses haven’t been ordered yet, insist that your dress is floor length. If they have, and you’re wearing a short dress, let her know that you’ll need to wear tights or leggings underneath. You’ll also want to pack a very wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses, though, it should be fine to take them off quickly for the ceremony or pictures. If you’re nervous, share your plans with your medical team for their approval. (In fact, you’ll still need to slather up with SPF sunscreen, and it’s best to ask them which brand or level  is best for you.)

It’s also fair to ask your cousin for more information about what type of sun protection is available. While all reception venues are different, most will offer a tent to guests for some shade. If not, many will have tables with umbrella coverings so guests are not boiling under the sun while eating dinner. Plus, there may be a bar area or indoor space that is immediately on the side of the outdoor area that you could spend your time. 

If there doesn’t seem to be appropriate coverage, ask your cousin if she’ll change her plans and hold the event indoors at the tropical location. If she refuses, step down from your role and wish her the very best wedding day. 

Close up of a left hand leaving a pebble on a headstone in cemetery.

An Estranged Friend Is Dying. Should I Visit?

Dear Ada,

I lost all my close friends in my divorce. I made some mistakes in my marriage and unfortunately, since all of our friends were shared, they rightfully chose my wife’s side over mine. I just found out that one of my closest friends, who happened to be the best man at my wedding, is on hospice. I’ve spoken with him only a few times since the divorce. He’s told me that he misses our friendship but he doesn’t want to disrespect his wife or my previous wife by continuing on with our friendship like nothing has changed.

I’ll get to the point: Is it okay for me to visit him while he’s on hospice? Should I go to his afterlife services? I can live with the fact that I lost some friends, but I feel like I have a right to say goodbye and grieve him as well.

Your friend may miss you. But, he’s also made his choice — not to continue his relationship with you. And because of that, I think you should respect his wishes.

You are right about something: you absolutely have the right to grieve your friend. However, here’s where I think you should objectively decide how to approach the situation. Only you know your friendships best. And only you know what kind of mistakes you made in your marriage and what kind of bomb was dropped on your friendships because of this. Do you think that seeing him or attending his services will foster healing or open a bigger wound?

There’s part of me that wants to tell you to stay away. That your friend has made his feelings quite clear to you, and that your presence will only hurt him, his wife, and the circle of friends who’ve already been hurt by your previous actions. Yet, another part of me feels that when someone has an opportunity to clear the air or say their peace, they should take it.

Do you think that seeing him or attending his services will foster healing or open a bigger wound?

Here’s what I think you should do: reach out to your friend by a letter or calling him directly, and ask your friend if he’d like you to visit while he’s on hospice. Then, honor his wishes. He may want you there, want to keep you away, or maybe he’ll suggest something less intimate, like emailing or continuing with the phone call.

If your friend invites you over, keep your visit short. Say what’s on your heart and be respectful for this time you’ve been gifted. Your friends are preparing for a major loss in their lives. This isn’t the time to rehash mistakes and explain your behavior. Use the opportunity as a moment to share the love you have and gratitude for the effect they had on your life.

Don’t feel wounded if your friend doesn’t respond to you, or asks you not to come. This may have very little to do with you and more because he’s choosing to spend his little time left with his closest family members. 

As for the afterlife services — I think you should stay away. Services are part of the healing process for the loved ones left behind, and it sounds as if most of the people in your friend’s life have already closed the door to a friendship with you. Do the right thing and let them grieve together. You can still grieve for him in your own way. When you were close, how did you spend time together? Relive one of those moments in his honor.

Are you facing a problem that is being complicated by a health condition or disability? Folks’ advice columnist Erin Ollila wants to help. Email and tell us your problem.