Ask the Advocates: Mental Wellbeing After Diagnosis

We asked our advocates for their perspectives on the different emotions that come at each step of the skin cancer journey. In part one, we learn about the emotional impact of their skin cancer diagnosis by asking "How did you feel when you were first diagnosed?"

shock at diagnosis

I felt completely blindsided

Scott Matheny: At first, I didn’t know what to feel. It was 1988 and I was 24 and I had never heard of melanoma and I certainly didn’t know how deadly it was and could be. When things settled and I realized that I had a very serious type of cancer, I felt a little scared. As a young person I had felt pretty invincible, but soon I realized how vulnerable I really was. I got angry. I was angry with my parents for not protecting me. I was concerned that it would come back. I felt completely blindsided. I wondered what else was going to be found. I wondered if I was going to die. I was sad because I had so many goals and desires that now seemed questionable. Ignorance about the disease caused a lot of pain and anxiety.

I felt numb and then angry

April Pulliam: I think I was more numb than anything when I heard the word "melanoma." When I did begin to feel, I was angry with myself for bringing it on myself by tanning. I had two small children at the time, and I was just sick that I had not been more conscious of my health for their sakes.

I felt shocked

Judy Cloud: I was shocked. The dermatologist very bluntly said “You have cancer and I’m going to do radiation on your face.” I wasn’t at all expecting to hear that I had skin cancer, and I can’t imagine a doctor who is letting a patient with a different kind of cancer know they have cancer delivering the news with such bluntness and lack of compassion. That should have been my first clue that skin cancer isn’t always put in the same category as ‘real’ cancer, even by some medical professionals.

I felt nervous about the skin cancer treatment

Renee Feldman: When first diagnosed, I was shocked, upset, and nervous. I was shocked that the tiny dot on my face was actually skin cancer, upset that I had cancer, and nervous about the treatment.

I was scared about how much time I had left

T.J. Sharpe: As my stage IV melanoma diagnosis brought with it a median lifespan of 18 months, I was, of course, shocked and scared. However, with two little kids (2 and 4 weeks old, respectively) I was determined to find the best treatment I could to give myself a chance to watch my family grow up. So that uncertainty about the future was always balanced by a desire to never give up hope of seeing them into adulthood. There was a time I began pondering what I would “accept” – would 10 years be enough? Would 5?

Click here for part 2 where the advocates share their reactions during treatment.

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