In 2017, my dad was diagnosed with melanoma on his shoulder. I remember that my parents told me casually, but my heart started racing. My hunch is their desire to save their daughter from worry allowed them to approach it with ease. But, I knew my mom was worried. He scheduled several excisions and we waited. Luckily, the surgeries were successful and the melanoma was removed. He does still experience shoulder pain in the area of surgery to this day. I decided to ask my mom some questions about her experience taking care of my Dad while he underwent treatment.
Me:Did it surprise you when he was diagnosed? My mom: Yes, for a couple of reasons. The weird looking bump he went to the doctor about was not the one the doctor was ultimately concerned about! And I never thought his diagnosis would come back malignant. I figured, “Oh, it will just be removed and be benign and we can forget about it.”
Me:Did you feel you as a caretaker were given enough information about the surgery and the aftercare? My mom: I did not feel like I was given enough information but, (sorry to my husband) I can’t blame the medical experts entirely. My husband is very quiet and not the type to ask a lot of probing questions. I think I should have accompanied him on the visits. But they gave us print outs on the necessary care and I followed them.
Coping with emotions
Me:How did the whole experience make you feel? Scared, mad, worried, etc.? My mom: I was a little worried but I had confidence in the medical team and I also felt like it was caught in time. But it took a couple of out-patient surgeries and some deep digging to remove the malignancy. So that was a little agonizing. But it was not very prolonged care. Once the malignancy was removed and the follow-up visits completed, he eventually was in the clear. I also was proud of myself because I insisted that he go to the dermatologist.
Me:Did it make you approach your skin care/sun protection differently? My mom: Yes, absolutely! I was never strict about sunscreen when I was in the sun because I’m not light-skinned (I realize that’s not a good policy). I was not concerned about ever getting skin cancer because of my olive skin, but I always used a ton of sunscreen on you and your brother. But my husband’s scare made me much more diligent about sunscreen and spending less time in the sun. I also only buy moisturizer now that has sunscreen in it.
Some final advice
Me:What advice would you give for another person whose spouse/partner is going through a skin cancer scare? My mom: 1. Even before a skin cancer scare, if your partner is very light-skinned and has a family history insist that your partner get the required examinations. And if you see any suspicious bumps, insist they get them checked. 2. If you are not happy with the medical team, go for a second, even a third opinion and stick with the team you are comfortable with. 3. When/if your partner has a procedure, get exact instructions from the doctor (go with your partner to the doctor if you can) for after-care. 4. Just do the best you can, ask for help if you need it, and be grateful if you have good medical insurance.