Living With Skin Cancer
Being told you have skin cancer can be shattering. The news often comes as a terrifying wake up call to those who never knew or accepted that the sun can be a killer.
Thankfully, in the majority of cases, skin cancer is completely curable. But for some people, being told they have a spreading melanoma is terrifying because this form of skin cancer is unlikely to be cured.
Living with skin cancer becomes a major challenge if you're facing a possible terminal illness and all the emotions, anxieties, fears and anger that go with it. Certainly if the melanoma has invaded other parts of the body such as the brain or lungs, then you're looking at treatment to prolong life rather than a cure. Keep in mind however, that treatments are improving all the time and a cure for this most serious form of skin cancer may be just around the corner.
There's also the practical side of things to be considered. How are you going to cope as the illness progresses and become more dependent on others? How do you tell your family? Who will look after any children? Financially how will you cope when you have to take time off work for treatment or when it comes to a stage when you can no longer work?
At the end of the day, there is no definitive right or wrong way of living with terminal skin cancer. Some people might be relieved with the diagnosis after months of worry. Others will be angry, depressed, full of guilt, torturing themselves with unanswerable questions. Was the holiday in Tenerife where I burned badly the start of the problem?
These feelings are all normal and part of the coping process. Talking to others - whether they're health professionals, counsellors, relatives or close friends - can go a long way towards easing the burden of these overpowering emotions. Many patients find that understanding the illness and its progression puts them in control and dispels some unfounded fears. It also prepares them for what is ahead.
Many specialist cancer nurses are worth their weight in gold. They're a mine of practical and medical information and will have a thorough understanding of your cancer and what you're going through.
Local support groups and Internet forums can be invaluable. You'll be able to share chat and practical advice with other people who are in the same boat as you (without the inevitable emotional element that goes with talking to family and friends).
Some people flatly refuse to talk about their cancer. Illness is a very personal thing but sharing the problem and knowing that there are people out there who can help and understand, can be extremely therapeutic.
If the melanoma has spread and you've decided to have treatment , you will undoubtedly be very tired. You might be at a stage where the cancer is in the brain or bones and confined to a wheelchair or bed. Call on someone for support - someone to take you for treatment, someone to help in the home. Generally, people are delighted to be asked for practical when someone they care about is seriously ill (even if they're uncomfortable about discussing the illness itself).
Your family may also need support in caring for you. It might be a question of organising respite care - sometimes both the patient and main carer need to admit that they need to take a break from each other. In many countries social services departments can help with respite care and other support services. In America , depending on the person's level of health insurance, social support is usually provided.
Cancer charities can also help with support and advice.
Depending on which country you live in, financial help may be available from the government in the form of benefits if you can't work because of your illness. Usually a social worker or specialist cancer nurse can tell you what you and your family are entitled to.
Above all, try and keep your body as fit and healthy as you can, given the difficult circumstances. Exercise lifts the spirits and coupled with a well balanced diet will keep your immune system healthier.