If you have been diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma, you are probably scared and confused. You might be worried about your family and what will happen to them if the disease continues to progress. You might be worried about medical bills or time you will lose from work. You might wonder what comes next.
Talking to your doctor
When your doctor first told you about your diagnosis, you might have been too surprised or upset to ask many questions. It is a good idea to set up an extended appointment with your doctor to give yourself plenty of time to get all of your questions answered. Many people choose to bring someone along for this appointment - your spouse, a family member or a trusted friend. Not only can this provide you with some moral support, it gives you someone to help you make sure you get all of the information correctly. You might want to ask questions and ask the other person to take notes on everything the doctor says. The more information you have, the better you can make decisions on your health care.
Your doctor will probably order additional tests. This is to gather as much information as possible about your cancer, such as the where your cancer has spread, how fast or slow it is growing. All of this will help your doctor determine the best course of treatment.
When treating stage 4 melanoma, you often have a "team" of doctors, one who is a specialist in melanoma. If you haven’t already seen a melanoma specialist, now is the time to ask for a referral and make an appointment. A melanoma specialist is an important part of your team. Other medical professionals can include a surgeon, an oncologist, a dermatologist and social workers. All of the people on the team are important to your overall care and all play a different role. Your doctor should explain what each person can do to help you.
Deciding on a course of treatment
Although you want to take your time and evaluate all your treatment options, once you have been diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma, your doctor will want to begin treatment quickly to stop the disease from further spreading. Based on your test results, your doctor will recommend a course of treatment, such as surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and biologic therapy. Your first course of treatment might be surgery to remove as much cancer as possible. Targeted therapy and immunotherapy are often used to treat metastasized melanoma. Whichever treatment your doctor recommends, be sure to ask your doctor why he feels this treatment is best and what you should expect from treatment, including how to know if it is working and what the side effects are.
Besides these therapies, your doctor might know of some clinical research studies for new treatments. A clinical study is done when a manufacturer is testing a new drug. If you participate in a clinical study, you have the benefit of receiving treatments that are not yet generally available and will usually receive your treatment for free. However, there are also some risks associated with clinical studies, such as the treatment might not work as well as those generally available or the side effects are not fully known. Be sure to gather as much information as possible about any clinical research study before deciding whether to participate.
Throughout your treatment, you might be asked to undergo additional testing. These tests help track the progress of your treatment and let your doctors know if they need to make adjustments, stop or continue treatment.
While statistics show that the prognosis for those diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma is not good, there are also many stories on the internet of those who have survived and tests show their diagnosis has changed to “no evidence of disease (NED).” Some of these people were originally given less than a year to live but have survived 20 years or more. The website AIM at Melanoma shares some stories of stage 4 melanoma survivors. Remember, science continues to make great strides in finding effective treatments for this disease.
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.