How You Can Manage Fear With a Metastatic Melanoma Diagnosis

Ph.D., CPsychol., AFBPsS, Health Professional
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Getting a diagnosis of metastatic (stage 4) melanoma is both upsetting and frightening. Cancer is a word loaded with uncertainties and fear—especially when it returns. But anxiety is also something cancer survivors must learn to cope with. Learning to control our fear ultimately affects the extent to which we allow fear to dominate our lives.

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Fear reactions

Fear and anxiety are interrelated. Fear typically refers to an object (spiders, dogs, elevators) whereas anxiety refers to the real or imagined consequences. This can lead to sleepless nights, panic attacks, aches and pains, dizziness, sweating, and other anxiety symptoms. Recognizing the difference between anxiety, cancer symptoms, and possible side effects of medication can help you determine the origins of uncomfortable sensations.

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Measuring outcomes with metastatic melanoma

Stage 4 cancer means the cancer is advanced. The prognosis for metastatic melanoma is dependent on how far the cancer has spread. Although 5-year survival rates are less favorable, there are a number of variables that affect survival, including age, ethnicity, cancer location, and previous health. New drugs and interventions are constantly being revised that aim to improve treatment outcomes.

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Knowledge is power

Self-empowerment is an important step in overcoming fear and this can be done in a number of ways. The more you know about your condition, the less you will feel a victim of it. Write down questions you need answered. Try to avoid gossip, speculation, and chatter. Get the facts from well-informed websites like The American Cancer Society and HealthCentral.com, and speak to experts. No question is too basic so talk, ask, and ask again.

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Tackle your treatment fears

We’ve all seen images of people losing their hair, losing weight, and generally looking ghastly due to aggressive treatments. The more you understand what is happening and why, the easier it will be to cope. Chemotherapy, radiation, and immunotherapy can have a variety of uncomfortable and worrying side effects. Despite this, they are often predictable and this alone can reduce the fear of the unknown.

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Reach out to health professionals

Most cancer specialists operate at a highly sophisticated level, taking into account not just the treatment of cancers but the psychological effects, too. There is an acute awareness that our state of mind is highly influential to overall health. Your own care team may offer services from trained counselors, psychologists, and specialist nurses. Grab the opportunity to make use of them.

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Take positive actions

When it comes to self-help, there are endless choices. You may need to adapt these according to how you feel during treatment, but you can: maintain a healthy diet, take some form of regular exercise, locate and use your support group, borrow equipment to improve quality of life, and so on. Connecting with a support group will itself provide a huge boost and generate all sorts of positive ideas from others in the same situation.

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Anxiety reduction techniques

Various relaxation techniques exist that are proven to help reduce anxiety. Mindfulness and yoga are certainly worth considering, but if these don’t appeal, try something a little more familiar. Reading a good book or watching a funny movie are great distractions. Taking a walk, doing some gardening, picking up a new or old hobby, or having a luxurious bath are simple everyday things that provide some solace.

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How family and friends can help

Some of the best practical and emotional support comes from loved ones. If you are someone who supports a cancer patient, it’s important to know that you aren’t expected to have all the answers. Just being available to offer love and support is often the best way you can help. There may be difficult times ahead, but your consistency and reliability will always help to reduce anxiety.

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Taking comfort in faith

Many of us find comfort, peace, and meaning through religion. The American Cancer Society points to studies that suggest a link between religious or spiritual beliefs and better recovery among cancer patients. Holistic care accounts for the mind, the body, and the spirit, with none taking greater priority over the other. Providers of care should respect the dignity of individuals by supporting all of these dimensions.

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Walking a path through fear

Living with a life-limiting illness is a highly personal journey and one where you may feel isolated and frightened. It may help to know that these feelings often pass and that a certain peace can come with having the time and ability to put things in place.