It can be scary to learn you have melanoma. Your mind is probably full to the brim with questions and worries. Will it get worse? What will treatment be like? What do you do now?
Stop and take a breath. You don't have to handle everything at once. Here are some small steps to get you going in the right direction and help you get a handle on your condition.
Think About a Second Opinion
Melanoma can be tricky to diagnose and to treat. You don't have to take your doctor's word as the final say on either of them. Think about asking another specialist to confirm the diagnosis and to discuss your options for treatment.
Another viewpoint is especially important if your doctor doesn’t treat melanoma often or usually works with a different type than the one you have. There are many cancer treatments out there, and what works for one person may not work for you.
Don't feel bad. Doctors are used to patients asking for second opinions. Some even recommend it. And not only will most insurance companies pay for a visit to another doc, some require it.
Learn as Much as You Can
For many people, cancer is a new, confusing world. You might hear new words you don’t understand, and it may seem like strangers are making life-altering decisions.
One way you can take charge is to educate yourself. Your doctor is a good starting point for information, but you can also look up support networks and online message boards. Be sure you’re looking at information from reliable, well-known groups, though. Also, keep in mind that what some people went through with melanoma may not happen to you.
When you learn more about melanoma, you’ll know what to expect, which can help you feel less afraid. And less stress means a better shot at recovery.
Decide Who Else Needs to Know
Who you tell about your diagnosis is completely up to you. When you’re deciding, it helps to keep some things in mind:
- If you have melanoma, it means your parents, siblings, and children have a higher risk for skin cancer, too. So your information could help them protect their own health.
- If you have kids, you can tell them as much about your diagnosis as you think they can handle, based on their age or how mature they are. But be prepared to have more than one conversation with them about it.
- Don't let yourself be rushed. You can decide if and when you're ready to reveal information.
- It's OK to put limits on how much you say. If someone pesters you with questions, feel free to tell them, "I don't want to talk anymore about this now."
Build a Support Team
A network of support you have faith in is just as important as having a medical team you like. Depending on what type of melanoma you have, you may need help with everyday tasks as well as someone to lean on when you feel sad or stressed.
Trusted friends and family members can take you to and from appointments, cook for you, and listen when you need to vent.
If your friends can’t help or you're not comfortable asking them, volunteer networks can step in for some tasks, including transportation and everyday chores.
Don't hesitate to find professional counselors and social workers to help you deal with the emotional load of a cancer diagnosis. It might also help to tap into networks of melanoma survivors. There are lots of them who can give advice and, most importantly, hope. One day, you may be able to return the favor.