Ask the Advocates: How Did You Feel the Day of Your First Diagnosis?

Being diagnosed with skin cancer doesn't only affect you physically, but also emotionally. It's the aspect of dealing with a diagnosis that is not discussed as much.

A skin cancer diagnosis and the emotions that follow

Our advocates share their emotional journeys after they were diagnosed.

Ronni: An element of surprise

My first skin cancer was a spot near my tear duct. I was more surprised than upset. I had been brushing away a little piece of flaky skin that kept coming back. I was surprised that a persistent piece of flaky skin could be a sign of squamous cell carcinoma. I was also surprised at the division of labor for getting it taken care of. First one doctor did Mohs surgery, and after it healed, I went down the hall to see a doctor who specialized in cosmetic and reconstructive eye plastic surgery. I didn’t even know there was such a thing. I was surprised that she took a little piece of skin out of my eyelid to plug the hole that the surgeon had made. It was bigger than I thought. I was also surprised that she put a little stent in my tear duct to keep it open. And I was surprised that she said I was getting a little eyelid lift, but only on one side. I asked if she could even me out, but she said no, it wouldn’t be that noticeable. Turns out she was right.

Judy: Pure shock

Shock. I remember feeling completely shocked, almost like I’d had the air knocked out of me. I had made an appointment with a dermatologist for a small area right under my eye that would bleed and scab over but wouldn’t fully heal. He took a quick look at it and very bluntly told me “You have cancer and I’m going to do radiation to get rid of it.” (By the way, I didn’t let him do radiation on my face. I got a second opinion and ended up having a plastic surgeon remove the skin cancer).

Renee: Full of fear

The day of my first diagnosis I was scared, more like terrified. All I heard was the word 'cancer', and I started shaking. I was standing in my kitchen when the phone rang. When the nurse on the phone said I had skin cancer, I didn’t really know what that meant. She started talking about treatment, gave me the names of Mohs surgeons, and that’s all I remember. Did she ask if I had questions? I don’t know. Did she tell me how soon to make the appointment for surgery? I don’t know. What I do know is that I felt numb. I had a trip to Italy planned for two weeks later, and I wondered if I would have to cancel it. I called my daughters and they tell me all I said to them was “I have cancer.” I don’t remember what I said, but I scared them too. I don’t remember much of anything else about the rest of that day. I got the call in the late afternoon and I don’t remember eating dinner, or even whether I slept. It’s all a blur. The next day I took action, calling my doctor and reaching out to friends, but not the day I found out my diagnosis. That day, I was just scared.

April: Overhelmed

When my doctor called to tell me I had melanoma, I was petrified. The only person I had ever known who had melanoma passed away shortly after his initial diagnosis. I looked at my two young children and felt completely lost. I had a lot of guilt and was overcome with the what-ifs. Had I caused this? Could I have prevented it? What if surgery isn’t enough? Things were very difficult that first day. I honestly didn’t know what to think or what to do. Things were moving very quickly, thanks to my family doctor. I was scheduled with a dermatologist and an excision planned immediately. I was completely overwhelmed but well taken care of.

Liz: Unfortunately, not surprised

After marrying my soul mate, we lived at the beach, and I do mean lived there. All our so our leisure time was spent all day long in the sun and sand. Raising a family didn’t change that at all. So of course I was not really surprised with my first diagnosis of skin cancer. Before living at the beach, I went to the beach once a year but burnt so badly, I do believe that contributed to my skin cancer journey. Tar beach, AKA the roof landing on my apartment building, was famous for summertime sunburns too. I think it is never too late to be proactive and preventive.

Rachel: Helping others through a diagnosis

I have never been diagnosed with skin cancer, thankfully. I am trying to prevent it to the best of my abilities. I do talk to many patients going through their first skin cancer diagnosis and I always tell them the same thing. The uncertain part is over, and now you know exactly what needs to be done to eliminate it. You’re tougher than your skin cancer and you will get through this.

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