The Importance of the Messages We Hear
Last updated: February 2023
Over the course of my life, I have heard people comment that the messages you allow yourself to hear have a great impact on you. The concept always seemed a little too “out there” for me until recently. At forty-seven years old, I have finally come to believe that the internal and external messages we hear have a critical impact on our worldview and our ability to respond to a stressful situation, such as skin cancer.
Biopsies of suspicious spots with a new doctor
I doubt I am unique, but I am very receptive to the messages others give me. It could be words, a verbal message, another’s actions, a non-verbal message, and all convey a lot of meaning to me. In February 2018, I had a skin check and two biopsies with a new dermatologist in private practice that I had just started seeing. He was very nice, and my first impression was that he was extremely sharp and had an eye for details. He was also very, very young.
Discovering dysplastic nevus
He called me one evening shortly after the biopsies to let me know that I had a severely atypical dysplastic nevi on my upper chest. His tone of voice and word choice conveyed to me that he was anxious. He started out by asking, “Are you sitting down?” I said, “Yes.” Well, I was driving through traffic, but yes, I was sitting down. The dermatologist said, “I do not want to cause you high blood pressure, but...I just knew it was melanoma when I took the biopsy. It really looked just like melanoma.”
Questioning his delivery
When I saw the dermatologist at a later date in his office, he said to me that, considering the squamous cell carcinoma I had in 2018, and the dysplastic nevi I then had on my chest, it was all very concerning at my age. He then proceeded to tell me that most of his patients with skin cancer issues like mine were seventy and eighty years old. I had no idea what he was implying by referencing my age, but it did not sound positive to me.
I felt defeated by his negativity
I took the dermatologist’s frank words to heart, and it really made me feel defeated. I felt like the world was coming to an end for sure. I picked up on the his doom-and-gloom message, and I felt like perhaps I needed to be making an estate plan and wrapping up my affairs. Sure, it was serious that I had skin issues in 2018 and then again in 2022, no doubt. But he was conveying a very negative, defeated message to me. People are not moved forward when they hear negative messages. Instead, negative messages make people give up the fight.
Coping with skin cancer and seeking a second opinion
I decided to get a second opinion on my dysplastic nevi because I did not feel at peace with the dermatologist I was seeing. The negative messages he conveyed to me made me question his ability to relate effectively with me. At my second opinion, I was seen by an oncology dermatology surgeon at a major medical center. She entered the room in an upbeat manner, and she smiled at me. We talked about what she recommended to address my dysplastic nevi, and we also talked about stuff. She made small talk.
Making me feel at ease
On the day of my excision surgery with my new dermatologist, she chatted almost non-stop about inconsequential topics. She asked me why I moved to Dallas, Texas, where I live; how long had I lived in Dallas; and what type work I do. She also told me a funny story about her sister, also a doctor, who lives in Virginia. Finally, she and I talked about a gym we both were members of. By the time we thoroughly covered all that ground and some, an hour had passed, and my surgery was over. I did not feel that she took my dysplastic nevi lightly. Rather, I concluded that she had mastered the art of handling a stressful health situation in a way that conveyed a positive message to the patient.
"It's just skin cancer"
We have all heard that skin cancer is “not serious,” or that it's "just skin cancer." I choose not to entertain such discussions where people felt the need to let me know skin cancer is inconsequential. I have been told, “if you are gonna have cancer, skin cancer is the one to have.” When I allow people to express that opinion around me and engage in that negative discussion, I am allowing them to discount me and my feelings with their negative message.
My experience matters
What I have been through with skin cancer counts, and I count. Likewise, my feelings about what I have been through count. I am not saying I will throw a fit if such a negative discussion starts in my presence, but I am saying I will change the topic or otherwise end the non-productive discussion. Such a discussion is wholly negative and discounts my feelings and the feelings of countless others who have been through skin cancer. I do not take that lightly.
Internal messaging is equally as important
I also believe the messages we allow ourselves to hear coming from within are very important. The reason they are so important is because the messages we give ourselves impact our worldview. I try to catch myself when I have negative thoughts and replace them with positive thoughts.
Replacing negative thoughts with positive ones
In February 2018, when I was diagnosed with the dysplastic nevi, I caught myself saying, “You cannot handle this. This is too stressful. The outcome will be bad.” When I caught myself saying those negative things, I interrupted myself and replaced the negative thoughts with a positive message, such as, “You are doing great. Just keep going. You have got this. You are handling this so well.”
We definitely hear the messages we give ourselves, and those messages have a powerful impact on our ability to respond effectively. Some days, I feel a lot of anxiety and fear about the possibility of my skin cancer coming back. When that happens, I repeat over and over, “You have been healed. You are ok. You are doing great. Keep moving forward.” These powerful, positive messages calm me right down and get me back on track.
In sum, the internal and external messages we allow ourselves to hear are extremely powerful. If you work to replace the negative messages with positive messages, eventually you will effectively push the negative thoughts out of your mind. It is just like riding a bike because you will get better with practice. I promise. Sure, it takes effort to be positive, but moving forward in life is so much more doable when we are focused on positive messages.
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