Receiving a melanoma diagnosis can be shocking. It can be scary. It can cause an array of emotions from anxiety to anger. It can also be distressing to your family and friends.
Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer. It is life-threatening if not detected and treated early, so a diagnosis will most likely cause some stress when you think about the ways in which it will affect your life. You might worry about how those you love will cope with the news or hope that they can be there to support you. It's also not just your relationships that you might worry about, but also the financial burden it may place on you and your family.
If you've just received a melanoma diagnosis, here are some things to consider about how it may impact your life and some strategies to get you through this difficult time.
How cancer impacts relationships with family and friends
Cancer affects not just the patient, but their whole family. Sharing information and openly talking about your feelings with your family and friends helps prevent depression and anxiety in the whole family unit.
A skin cancer diagnosis can cause emotional stress
Anxiety, anger, fear and depression are all common reactions to a cancer diagnosis. Not just for the person who has been diagnosed, but also for their family members and close friends.
Patients may worry about how treatments, such as surgery or chemotherapy, will change their appearance. They may have concerns about how they will cope with treatment side effects. Family members can become anxious about how they can support their loved ones during this difficult time.
Education can play a role in alleviating the fears of a patient and their family. Understanding the available treatment, the side effects and possible outcomes are especially helpful for families with children.
A child may have difficulties understanding melanoma and what it means for the family or how treatment will affect a patient. They may not grasp the magnitude of the disease, so ensure your answers are honest but age-appropriate.
A cancer diagnosis will see changes in family roles
Melanoma can lead to a change in family dynamics as spouses or children step into new roles to keep the family functioning and support their loved ones. Often, this requires family members to become caregivers, and this can be a stressful and demanding role, which also affects the caregiver's mental well-being.
Spouses may also express helplessness and fear over losing their partners. Encourage children and partners to seek professional help from a hospital social worker or therapist if they need it.
Family members may worry about their risk of melanoma
Having a family member diagnosed with melanoma can also cause family members to worry about their increased risk of developing the disease.
As a family history of melanoma puts people at a greater chance of developing the disease, encourage family members to speak with a doctor about their concerns and undergo regular skin checks.
Sickness and cancer care can disrupt routines and activities
It can be challenging to balance the demands of regular responsibilities with doctors' appointments and treatment, and your family's routine can also be disrupted. Seek the support of extended family and friends where you can minimise disruptions. Don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it.
Cancer patients may also change their lifestyles to avoid sun exposure and UV radiation. This may leave them feeling isolated or cause them anxiety. As well as being more cautious, treatments such as radiation can make the skin more sensitive, and patients should keep the area out of direct sun for up to 12 months.
The financial implications of melanoma add to the stress
It is estimated that 60% of cancer patients face financial stress following a diagnosis. However, there is help available if you know where to look.
Cancer treatment may affect your ability to work
Cancer patients will worry about how a diagnosis and treatment will affect their income and job security. They may even have anxiety about being able to continue in the same line of work. In addition, as family members often act as caregivers, they too may need to take time off of work. This can add a great deal of stress and strain on the household income, especially with the added burden of medical bills.
The side effects of treatment can also be an added difficulty when it comes time to return to work.
Speak with your financial institutions and service providers as soon as possible, and if you find you're getting into debt or unable to pay your bills, reach out to a financial counsellor. The Cancer Council also has valuable information on managing finances.
Medical expenses and medications can be costly
Expenses during melanoma diagnosis, treatment and recovery can depend on the stage your cancer has reached. Treatment may involve a single procedure, such as surgery, or multiple treatments, like chemotherapy, radiation therapy and targeted therapies. The cost of medication and specialist fees can also add to your stress.
Speak with your doctor, a hospital social worker, superannuation company (to see if you have income protection insurance attached to your policy) or reach out to your insurance company to get some support as you work through treatment.
You may need to travel for cancer treatment
If your cancer requires specialised treatment, you may have to travel as not all hospitals will offer the treatment you need. For example, if you live in regional Australia, you may need to organise your own travel and accommodation close to a hospital in a larger city.
In some cases, the Cancer Council may be able to assist you with transport and accommodation bills, so reach out to them if you need assistance.
Seek help for the whole family for your cancer
Treating melanoma is not just about putting your physical health first; it's also about recognising when you or those you love need mental health support. Using the resources available to you to support your financial and mental well-being can help mitigate some of the challenges associated with the impact of melanoma.
Seek psychological help if you need it. Speak to your doctor about where you can seek this support. You may find joining a cancer support group in your area a helpful first step, or you may prefer to contact the Cancer Council for practical and emotional support.
Encourage your family members, colleagues and friends to undergo regular skin checks and take prevention against skin cancers. SunDoctors skin cancer clinics offer thorough prevention, diagnosis, treatment and management of skin cancers. All doctors at our clinics have completed extra training in skin cancer treatment and management and are highly experienced in skin cancer diagnosis. Call 13 SKIN (13 75 46) to make an appointment at a clinic near you.