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Melanoma and Mental Health

Compassion fatigue is defined as “a state of exhaustion and dysfunction – biologically, psychologically, and socially – as a result of prolonged exposure to compassion stress.” 1

Having melanoma is stressful. Like any other cancer, the experience of diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment can take its toll on even the strongest person. The mind game is often the worst part of any disease. When will it happen again? Will it be worse this time? Can I handle the consequences and the pain? Will I die? Who will take care of my children? These are all very real emotions and thoughts that can result in sleepless nights and dread.

What is compassion fatigue?

I have dealt with those feelings and thought and the resulting anxiety based on my own experience with the disease. I have also had the experience of what is called “compassion fatigue” or “secondary traumatic stress”. These are terms for what may happen to anyone who counsels, mentors, or otherwise listens to others in crisis. “Reactions may include avoidance of the trauma, feelings of horror, guilt, rage, grief, detachment, or dread, and may possibly lead to burnout and countertransference.”1

Take stock of yourself

Sometimes those of us who spend a lot of time dealing with others’ trauma take some of it on ourselves and it can have consequences to our own mental health. We are compassionate, caring people who take some of the burden on ourselves and before we know it, we experience symptoms that lead us to have to take a step back. Often times, we are not even aware of the effects of this listening ear and compassion. This is where we need to take stock of ourselves and how we are doing.

Dial it back if you need to

Now, add the fact we ourselves have had the same sorts of trauma and pain and it can lead to overload. Others’ pain, trauma, and difficulties when added to ours can lead to burnout and our mental health issues. At times, I have felt this in my own life. Counseling others deeply embroiled in melanoma treatment is deeply rewarding and at times, draining. Some people deal with secondary trauma better than others. They key is knowing when to dial it down and take a step back and when to charge ahead.

My journey

I have been able to gauge my own sensitivities and it has taken time. I know that when I am going through my own trauma I am more susceptible to compassion fatigue. I know that I need to monitor my own involvement when I am feeling vulnerable to the disease. It’s just part of my journey and your journey may be different and that’s ok. I feel recharged to speak into the lives of others when I am sensitive to my own needs and act accordingly. Sometimes taking a break is the best thing one can do.

Rev your engines

I love being involved with SkinCancer.net and I believe that I have a lot to give others both on and offline. I have always been involved in a life of service and I don’t see that changing, but even the fastest race car needs a pit stop now and then. So, when you need new tires and a fuel refill, pull into pit row and then rev your engine and speed off again when you’re ready.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The SkinCancer.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. https://www.counseling.org/Resources/Library/Selected%20Topics/Crisis/Simpson.htm

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