Feeling anxious about your early melanoma diagnosis?
You’re not alone.
Most people assume that getting an early melanoma diagnosis is ‘good news’, you’ve caught it early and now it’s out. Just get on with life. But the reality is that anxiety doesn’t discriminate. In fact, sometimes the shock and uncertainty caused by an early diagnosis can be confronting and even life-changing, especially when there is no timely support provided.
Remember that MPA is here to support anyone impacted by melanoma, providing information and emotional support to both patients and carers, regardless of the stage of your diagnosis.
Melanoma is the most common cancer for those aged between 14 and 39; 1 in 17 Australians will be diagnosed with various stages of melanoma by the time we reach 85. Of course, some people accept the news of an early diagnosis and sail through their experience, without needing the free information and support services that MPA offers – but that’s not the case for everyone.
Even an early melanoma diagnosis can lead to panic attacks, irrational fear of the sun, avoidance of open spaces, and debilitating anxiety and distress. And these reactions can occur despite the fact that those diagnosed with in situ melanoma have the same overall expected survival rate as the general population.
So, why doesn’t an early diagnosis necessarily mean less anxiety? Your reactions to life events depend on many factors: your personality, your experiences, your mental health, your culture, your family and your social circumstances. No two people are exactly alike, so it’s difficult to predict how you’ll react to your diagnosis.
Perhaps you’ve lost a loved one to cancer, or you’ve recently experienced a relationship break up? This may be your 2nd or 3rd melanoma. Or, you may have a longstanding mistrust of the healthcare system or you’ve experienced a misdiagnosis in the past. Each of these aspects will impact the way you handle your early diagnosis and will influence your levels of distress and anxiety.
Also, fear of cancer recurrence (FCR) is an acknowledged condition that impacts around 75% of the population, at any stage of diagnosis. The reality of FCR, together with the unpredictability of melanoma, can lead to anxiety even amongst those with an early diagnosis.
What’s more, you may try to ignore or dismiss your anxiety, perhaps even feeling guilty about your reaction when comparing your situation to more advanced diagnoses. But remember that your feelings are valid and justified – and trying to suppress your anxiety won’t make the situation any easier.
In actual fact, the opposite is true. Even just one or two support sessions can help immensely, by having your feelings acknowledged and receiving relevant information from a credible source.
Or, you could benefit from joining a regular support group or attending sessions to learn specific psychosocial coping strategies. These strategies will help you manage your feelings so that you’ll be able to live a meaningful life in the present moment, irrespective of your melanoma diagnosis.
Reassuringly, research has shown that receiving psychological support early in your cancer journey can lead to significant reductions in your levels of stress, anxiety and fear. The evidence shows that if you can access emotional and social support, you’ll have better health outcomes, improved wellbeing and live longer.
Remember, a low-grade diagnosis doesn’t necessarily mean low-level stress. If you need someone to talk to, contact the MPA counsellor on 1800 844 450.