How to Care for Your Mental Health After Melanoma Diagnosis
Eileen Bailey | April 2, 2018
A melanoma diagnosis can be scary and overwhelming. This, along with isolation and feelings of helplessness, can cause mental health issues. In fact, around 30 percent of people with melanoma say they have significant psychological stress, such as anxiety or depression, according to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. During treatment for melanoma, it is important to care for your mental health as well as your physical health.
The stress surrounding diagnosis
High levels of psychological distress are often reported shortly after a diagnosis of melanoma. You might have thoughts of death and dying, or ruminate about concerns for 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, according to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. You may become anxious about the many tests and scans you have to undergo. You may worry about the effect treatment will have on your daily life. As you undergo different 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 mind and your body 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 often include laughter therapy, pet therapy, music therapy, and spiritual counseling during cancer treatment. Ask your doctor about these options.
Mental health screening during treatment
It can sometimes be difficult to know 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 (CDC) 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.
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. Not only will staying active help you feel better physically and emotionally, but it can also feel empowering because you aren’t letting cancer stop you from your life.
Building a strong support network can make a world of difference during your cancer journey. Lean on your 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 in similar situations with whom you can share your experiences and victories. According to a study completed in 2015, people with melanoma who had strong social support were better able to use positive coping methods than those without such networks.
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 come along with having a diagnosis of melanoma.
Organize your medical information
When you are 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 keep the information in one place. Put your doctor’s names and contact information, 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.