How You Can Manage Fear With a Metastatic Melanoma Diagnosis

by Jerry Kennard, Ph.D. Medical Reviewer

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. If you're feeling scared, you've come to the right place. Here are some tips for managing the fear that's such a part of living with advanced skin cancer.

Stressed woman feeling dizzy.
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Fear reactions

Fear and anxiety are interrelated. Fear typically refers to a thing (spiders, dogs, elevators and yes, cancer) whereas anxiety refers to the real or imagined consequences of said thing. 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.

Worried man talking to a doctor.
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Measuring outcomes with metastatic melanoma

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

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Knowledge is power

Self-empowerment is an important step in overcoming fear. 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 ask, and ask again.

Patient undergoing radiation therapy.
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Tackle your treatment fears

We’ve all seen images of cancer patients losing their hair, losing weight, and generally looking ghastly due to aggressive treatments. It's understandable to be afraid that that will be you.The more you understand what is happening during treatment 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.

Doctor comforting a worried patient.
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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 cancer but the psychological effects, too. They're acutely aware that our state of mind is highly influential to overall health. Your own care team may offer servicesto address your mental health, including trained counselors, psychologists, and specialist nurses. Grab an opportunity to make use of them!

Senior couple eating a healthy breakfast.
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Take positive actions

When it comes to self-care, there are endless choices. You may need to adapt what you do according to how you feel during treatment, but you can maintain a healthy diet, do some form of regular exercise, locate and use your support group, journal, 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.

Senior woman gardening.
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Reduce Your Anxiety

Various relaxation techniques are proven to help reduce anxiety. Mindfulness exercises and yoga are worth considering, and there are even apps available to help you learn these skills. If these don’t appeal, try something a little more familiar. Practicing deep breathing or engaging in positive distractions such as reading a good book or watching a funny movie are great tools. 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.

Husband comforting his worried wife.
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How family and friends can help

Some of the best practical and emotional support comes from loved ones. If you're 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

Holistic care accounts for the mind, the body, and the spirit, with none taking greater priority over the other. Ideally, your care team will support you in all of these dimensions, so you'll want to consider this as you're choosing who you'll work with. Additionally, many of us find comfort, peace, and meaning through religion. In fact, research has shown a link between religious or spiritual beliefs and better recovery among cancer patients.

Man walking down a nature path through the woods.
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Walking a path through fear

Living with a serious illness is a highly personal journey. It's understandable that you'll feel isolated, lonely or frightened at times. It may help to know that these feelings tend to pass and that a certain peace can come with having the time and perspective to put things in place.

Jerry Kennard, Ph.D.
Meet Our Writer
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D.

Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s work background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.