How to Care for Your Mental Health After Melanoma Diagnosis
A melanoma diagnosis can be scary and overwhelming. This, along with isolation and feelings of helplessness, can make you vulnerable to mental health issues. In fact, about 30% of people with melanoma say they have significant psychological stress, such as anxiety or depression, according to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. So it's crucial to care for your mental health as well as your physical health during treatment.
The stress surrounding diagnosis
It's perfectly natural to feel distressed shortly after your diagnosis. You might have thoughts of death and dying, or ruminate about your future and how the diagnosis will affect your family. You might find yourself focusing on all the things you can’t do because of treatment, or how you might have to give up activities you enjoy.
Anxiety and depression during treatment
Anxiety and depression are the most common mental health issues you may experience during treatment for melanoma. It's understandable to be anxious about the tests and scans you have to undergo. You may worry about the effect treatment will have on your daily life. As you undergo treatments, you may find you become depressed. If you don’t have a support network, treatment and its side effects may leave you feeling isolated.
Treating the mind and body
Treatment for melanoma should take your body and mind into account. “The mind, body, and spirit have a reciprocal relationship, and each affects the other,” David Wakefield, M.D., a doctor at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, says on the organization's website. Their cancer treatment programs integrate mind and body treatment. For example, they include laughter therapy, pet therapy, music therapy, and spiritual counseling. It's worth asking your doctor about these options.
Mental health screening during treatment
It sounds strange, but it can sometimes be difficult to realize when you are depressed or whether your anxiety is causing problems. When you’re deep in these emotions, you may see your mood shifts as justifiable. And they might be. But they can also interfere with your treatment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests talking to your doctor about completing regular mental health screenings so both of you can track changes in anxiety and depression and address them quickly.
It's just as true now as ever: Physical activity is key for your mental health. Cancer survivors who lead a physically active life have lower rates of depression, according to the CDC. Of course, you should talk with your doctor to determine a safe level and type of activity for you. Staying active can help you feel loads better physically and emotionally, and it's particularly empowering to know that you aren't letting cancer stop you from your living your life. (Yep, that includes moving!).
Building a strong support network can make a world of difference during your cancer journey. Lean on friends and relatives, and seek out support groups, either in person or online. You can also contact cancer organizations that have peer-to-peer programs to find people with whom you can share your experiences and victories. Melanoma patients who had social support were better able to use positive coping methods than those without such networks, according to a study in Canadian Oncology Nursing Journal.
Maintain a healthy lifestyle
Eating right and getting adequate exercise and sleep all play a role in your recovery. When you maintain a healthy lifestyle, you have more energy and can better cope with the stress and fatigue that wrough by the tests and treatments (and their potential side effects) that are on your road to healing.
Organize your medical information
When you're diagnosed with melanoma, you receive an enormous amount of information: about the disease, tests you need, your prognosis, and more. It can be hard to keep track of all the information and the results of diagnostic tests. Use a notebook or binder to gather all the relevant details in one place. Put your doctor’s names and contact info, dates of appointments, a summary of what happened, and results of tests together. This can help you feel more in control of your situation.
Going through treatment for melanoma can be exhausting and draining. You might not feel like looking toward the future, but doing so can help you regain feelings of hope. Make plans for things you want to do when your treatment is over or when you feel well enough to get out of the house. Give yourself something to look forward to in the near future as well as further down the line. And in the meantime, don’t be afraid to reach out for help.