Surviving Melanoma & Life After Cancer
Survivors of melanoma may experience any range of emotions, fears or struggles. It’s important to know that there is no right or wrong way to be a survivor. Survivors may experience:
- Increased anxiety
- Loss of support or a social network that feels inadequate
- Fear of recurrence
- Guilt about surviving
- Relationship struggles, including physical, sexual or fertility problems
Your life after a melanoma diagnosis may be different than before. You may be worried about fertility and having a baby, have increased anxiety, or even experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Our partners at Bristol-Myers Squibb have launched a new tool – Survivorship Today: What it’s Like to Live with Cancer!
What is Survivorship?
The state or condition of being a survivor, survival.
The number of Americans with a history of cancer has gone up greatly over the last 45 years, according to the National Cancer Institute. There are now more than 15 million Americans living with a history of cancer and nearly 1 million living with melanoma. Survivorship may have a few different meanings, but to most, it means living with, through and beyond a cancer diagnosis.
According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s (ASCO) patient information site, three phases of survivorship should be recognized:
- Acute survivorship focuses on cancer treatment. It begins at the diagnosis and goes through the end of treatment.
- Extended survivorship focuses on the effects of cancer and cancer treatment. This phase begins at the end of treatment and goes through the months after.
- Permanent survivorship focuses on long-term effects of cancer and cancer treatment. This phase is the period of time when years have passed since cancer treatment ended and the risk of recurrence seems less likely.
Stress from a melanoma diagnosis can be felt physically, mentally and emotionally. At times, this stress can feel unmanageable. You may feel as though you have lost interest in things that you used to enjoy. It is important that all signs of stress, depression and anxiety be discussed with your doctor.
Stress Management Techniques
Stress management techniques are a very important component in living with melanoma and can help you feel empowered and improve your quality of life. There are many stress management techniques you can try. Remember — not every technique works the same for everyone, but here are few ideas to get you started.
- Connect with others
- Talk with a therapist or counselor
- Listen to music
- Practice yoga
- Keep a journal
- Read a book
- Watch a comedy
Caregivers may also experience high levels of stress. Please use our Caregiver Support Guide to learn ways to take care of yourself while taking care of your loved one.
Nutrition and Physical Activity
NEW: The MRF is excited to introduce a new partnership with MyVictory, a fitness-streaming platform for cancer survivors and those who support them, that has been made possible by the support of Bristol Myers Squibb as part of a survivorship program to help the 1.3 million melanoma survivors currently living in the United States.
Visit mrf.myvictory.com and use the promo code MRF-6MonthsFree to gain free membership and access to over 1000 fitness classes in their On-Demand Library. Free membership is available for your first six months and is only $9.99/month thereafter!
Eating well and maintaining proper nutrition plays an important role in developing a lifelong melanoma survivorship plan. It is important to eat a variety of foods every day. Be aware of portion sizes and understand the amount of carbohydrates, proteins and fats your body needs. Watch our Nutrition and Melanoma Webinar hosted by Ms. Kim Jordan, MHA, RDN, CNSD.
Some melanoma patients experience decreased appetite, nausea, pain, discomfort or changes in taste during and after treatment. Eating small meals or snacks throughout the day, varying your diet and making meals into social events may help improve your appetite and make eating more enjoyable.
Regardless of how fit you were before your melanoma diagnosis, your physical conditioning may decrease as a result of your treatment. Improving your physical fitness after treatments can provide many benefits to your overall health and well-being.
Exercise can improve your health in the following ways:
- Increased energy
- Reduced fatigue
- Improved sleep
- Stress relief
- Increased self esteem
- Improved sexual functioning
- Decreased risk of osteoporosis
- Improved blood flow
- Reduced risk of blood clots and heart disease
You don’t need to overdo it. The overall goal is to simply try your best to maintain a healthy weight through diet and exercise. Even participating in low-impact activities such as yoga, Tai Chi and walking can help. Exercising for three to four days per week for 20-30 minutes is enough to notice cardiovascular and muscular strength improvements. As always, you should consult your doctor before beginning any exercise regimen.
Legal Protections Against Discrimination
Discrimination in the work place is not your fault. In the United States, the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) and many regulations are in place that protect your right to work and be treated fairly at work. To have these legal protections, you must tell your employer about your melanoma diagnosis.
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Federal law that prohibits employers from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities in job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.
- Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) Federal law that entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for certain family and medical reasons with the continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave.
- Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) Federal law that protects Americans from discrimination from health insurers and employers because of differences in their DNA that may affect their health.
Additional Survivorship Resources
- National Cancer Institute Office of Cancer Survivorship
- National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship
- Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center Survivorship Center
- CancerCare Social Worker on Melanoma Survivorship
- American Cancer Society – Life After Treatment
- Survivorship Today: What it’s Like to Live with Cancer
At the MRF, we believe that well-informed and well-supported patients live longer, better lives. We do our best to maintain all supportive services information, however, if you know of a melanoma organization or a support service focused on survivorship that may be helpful for others, please contact [email protected].