Melanoma Diagnosis: Being Proactive Can Be Life-Changing
Gaining a sense of confidence and control is possible.
by : ELLE Canada- Jun 3rd, 2022
Having informed conversations with your health-care providers, knowing your genetic status and building a support network can make a difference.
Melanoma is the most dangerous of all skin cancers, and its rates are increasing—especially among young people. In fact, it’s one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in people between the ages of 15 and 49.
Getting an advanced-melanoma diagnosis can be shocking and devastating. But taking a proactive role in your care—by getting informed, asking questions and surrounding yourself with a good support team—will give you the confidence to face it.
From feeling helpless to taking control
Brianna and Genevieve—both recently diagnosed with melanoma—can attest to this first-hand.
In May of 2021, Brianna was 28, married and in her third year of medical school when she noticed a change in a mole on her lower back. As someone with fair skin and red hair, she knew of her risks for skin cancer and immediately had it checked out and removed. Two weeks later, she learned that the mole on her back, as well as one on her calf that had been taken off a few months prior, were melanoma. Her marriage ended, her med school studies were put on hold and she was now facing surgery and treatment.
Genevieve, 45, was leading a busy life, working full-time as a speech therapist and raising two teenagers with her husband. She noticed a small oozing sore on her scalp two days before a scheduled dermatology appointment for her son and asked his doctor to examine during the appointment. The dermatologist immediately referred her for further testing, which confirmed a melanoma diagnosis.
Like Brianna, Genevieve felt her world coming apart, but as both women discovered, knowledge is power. Working closely with their health-care providers and asking questions at diagnosis and after surgery so they could map out a plan of action is helping Brianna and Genevieve feel confident, positive and in control.
Know the important questions to ask
There are many questions you need answers to, like what stage your melanoma is at, treatment options and side effects and how often you’ll need surveillance or scans post treatment. “Not everyone is comfortable knowing all those details, but for me, having more knowledge means having more tools to help me make decisions,” says Brianna.
For Brianna, one critical question was the impact of treatment on her fertility. “That was a really important piece for me because I intend to have children, so I made the decision to freeze my eggs before starting treatment,” she says.
Another very important question is about your cancer’s genetics. The most common genetic mutation is BRAF, and about half of melanoma patients will have this mutation. Both Brianna and Genevieve learned that they have the BRAF mutation following surgery, and discussing this information with their doctors helped them to better understand the next steps. “Had I known about this test sooner, I would have requested it at diagnosis,” says Brianna. “Your genetic information has the power to guide your health-care discussions and help shape what comes next.”
Build your support team
“Feeling alone at that initial diagnosis or right after surgery is the reality for many,” says Kathy Barnard, founder of Save Your Skin Foundation. “This is why we created the foundation—so that melanoma patients have somewhere to turn. Having a good support team in place and being as informed as you can be is what will help you feel more in control of the situation.”
The people you surround yourself with can include family members and friends as well as your medical team. Brianna, for example, relies on her mother and close friends to help take notes when she goes to appointments, while Genevieve’s team includes her husband and, at the clinic she goes to, a doctor, a nurse and even a psychologist. “I’m surrounded by the right support and information,” she says. “I have everything in my tool box that I need to beat my melanoma.”
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