A Skin Cancer Journey: How Do You Cope?

My mother has always been health-conscious, but as a child, I can remember her sitting on the couch eating a whole box of cookies or an entire bag of chips when she was managing stress in her own life. Fast forward forty-plus years, and I am now the woman on the couch coping with my skin cancer issues by eating unhealthy, high-calorie foods, such as cake, chips, and cookies.

Stress-eating and other coping mechanisms

Skin cancer and the numerous issues attributable thereto are major stressors in my life. When a new skin issue arises, I look for a way to cope, a way to effectively manage my difficult feelings. The ways we manage our stress are referred to as coping mechanisms. Coping mechanisms are ways of dealing with stress, anxiety, or other challenges in our lives, such as skin cancer. Coping mechanisms can be healthy or unhealthy.

Approximately six months ago, I had a skin check that did not go too well. The dermatologist stated to me that he was concerned about a mole on my abdomen with irregular borders and other concerning features, but he deemed it appropriate to “just wait.”

That being said, I could sense from the dermatologist’s word choice and body language that he was concerned. His direction to essentially hold tight sent my mind reeling. In my world, I deal in specifics. Wait on what exactly? Wait how long? In three months, at my next skin check with him, was he expecting the mole to have miraculously disappeared or improved? It seemed unbelievable to me that he was concerned, but we were just going to wait for something unspecified to occur.

Waiting for a second opinion

After a few weeks of simmering over the dermatologist’s recommendation to “just wait,” I decided to get a second opinion at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. I got an appointment, but it was about a month or so out.

The wait began, and quite honestly, it felt unbearable. I really, really wanted to manage the stress by doing something healthy like exercising or meditating, but unfortunately, that is not how it played out. At the time, I walked home each day by a fancy little grocery store, and each day, I conveniently walked in the store and bought a slice of cake, a box of cookies, or some other very unhealthy food.

Falling back on old coping strategies, even if they are unhealthy

We all do the best we can to cope with our skin cancer, and it is not easy. I am not condoning my use of unhealthy foods to cope with my skin issues. Rather, I am just confessing that is how it went for me. We all have coping mechanisms we employ to cope with our skin cancer, and some are healthy and some are not so healthy.

When I am beyond the latest skin issue, I always tell myself that if there is a next time, it will be different, and I will effectively manage my skin cancer stress with healthy coping mechanisms. And when/if a next time arises, here’s hoping that I will manage it better.

How about you, what coping mechanisms do you use to cope with the stress caused by your skin cancer? Have you mastered a healthy coping mechanism, or are you hoping to move in that direction?

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