If you are battling skin cancer, or have just survived it, you need to take a good look at all aspects of your life. Whether you are cured, have a relapse or never suffer from cancer again, you are changed forever. Dr. Martin Chasen, who is the director of McGill’s CNR Program and a medical oncologist, states: “Though technically cured, a patient will come out of the experience a physical and emotional wreck.”1 If you want to remain a survivor, it is important you understand that skin cancer will affect all aspects of your life. It is not purely a physical disease. It is very much and emotional and psychological one as well.
Who To Turn To
When you discover you have skin cancer, there are a variety of things you need to do. High on this list is telling your friends and family. These are individuals who will be part of your inner support group. Friends and family are particularly important for those times when you cannot do what you need to do. They are also necessary if special issues arise concerning advanced skin cancer.
You can also draw upon other resources. These include local community resources and online resources. These do not simply supply the necessary information to help you make informed choices. Online and community resources can also provide much needed counseling. There are different support groups to turn to. They provide some choice as to how you want to and who needs to address the various problems and issues arising from a diagnosis of skin cancer.
- For patients only – this gives a skin cancer survivor the chance to share and open up to others with the same problems without feeling he/she has to hold back because the spouse is present.
- A joint group consisting of patient and spouse or care giver – Going to meetings with a spouse or partner can strengthen the bonds between the two. It also gives them a chance to meet and talk to other couples in a similar situation
- For spouse and/or caregiver alone – this can be effective and liberating for the spouse or caregiver. They can express how they feel and find validation in what they are doing. They can also compare notes and talk about the challenges facing them
- For children – Sometimes children need their own venue in which to discuss their fears openly2
Sometimes, a group is not what you may need. You may find it better to turn to individual counseling. Take your time. Look online and contact community resources. You need someone who is experienced. Who will help you address your feelings, emotions and other issues? A good counselor will listen and is able to sort through any confusion. This will lead to less stress and a sense of better control of both your emotions and your life.
There are also special groups around the country capable of addressing specific needs. In instances where chemotherapy results in the loss of your hair, you can turn to various clinics and institutions for help. They will provide the services of a beautician for nail, hair and skin work. This helps boost self-esteem.4
What To Do
Take control of your life. According to Dr. Chasen, patients who do well in recovery and during treatment do so because they have done just that.5 Taking control of your life means you need to address various aspects of it. These include:
- Treatment – treatment at all stages of the survivorship need to be suitable for your particular type of skin cancer and your unique self. Take an active part in the decision. This will provide you with a sense of control. Let your partner and relatives also have some input – even minor. It makes them feel inclusive and can reduce the burden on you.
- Exercise – exercise is stimulating, distracting and helps your body improve its functions. Skin cancer need not interfere with exercise and sports. In fact, exercising may help improve your mood, energy level and all-round physical health.
- Diet/nutrition – whatever your stage of survivorship, watch your diet. Make sure it is healthy and serves the best interests of your body.
- Treat yourself. If you undergo radiation or chemotherapy, you may suffer from hair loss. Let yourself be pampered
- Make plans for the future. Set goals for yourself.
- Try to follow as normal a life as possible. Although cancer in all stages of development, treatment and post treatment is an altering disease, do not let it interfere totally with your ability to enjoy what you havein life6
What Not to Do
Stanford University, California, discovered an interesting fact concerning emotions. Repressing them frequently results in an imbalance of cortisol, the stress hormone. Increased stress can work to lower your immune system. As a cancer survivor, you need to avoid this. Find a way to express and not suppress your emotions. Do so in a productive and positive fashion for the best results for everyone involved.7
There are other things you should not do. You should not bear the entire burden. Share it with friends, relatives, counselors, organizations and various groups. Chat online if you can’t go out. You should not give in and give up. Skin cancer is not always a terminal sentence. Set a goal of reaching or maintaining a cancer-free life. Let it be part of a solution but not the only one. Focus on who you are and becoming healthy.
1 Fletcher, N. ( 2006). “Innovative Rehabilitation Program Redefines Patients’ Physical And Emotional Lives.” Retrieved from www.mcgill.ca/reporter/39/08/cancer/
2 National Comprehensive Cancer Network (2011). “Finding Support Systems For People With Cancer.” Retrieved from www.nccn.com/living-with-cancer/189-cancer-support-groups.html
3 Skin Cancer-Survivor (2011). “Surviving Cancer And Counselling: The Importance Of Stress Reduction For Skin Cancer Patients.” Retrieved from www.skincancer-survivor.com/surviving-cancer-and-counselling.html
4 Mayo Clinic (2011). “Mayo Clinic Erickson Hair & Skin Care Center.” Retrieved from www.mayoclinic.org/erickson-hair-rst/
5 Fletcher, N. ( 2006). “Innovative Rehabilitation Program Redefines Patients’ Physical And Emotional Lives.” Retrieved from www.mcgill.ca/reporter/39/08/cancer/
6 National Comprehensive Cancer Network (2011). “Other Things to Consider During and After Treatment .” Retrieved from www.nccn.com/living-with-cancer/854-things-to-consider-during-treatment.html
7 Skin Cancer-Survivor (2011). “Surviving Cancer And Counselling: The Importance Of Stress Reduction For Skin Cancer Patients.” Retrieved from www.skincancer-survivor.com/surviving-cancer-and-counselling.html