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Your feelings about advanced melanoma

Men and women discussing melanoma skin cancer

This page tells you about how you may feel if you have advanced melanoma. There is information about

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Your feelings about advanced cancer

Being told you have advanced melanoma is understandably shattering. It is a difficult disease to treat once it has spread. But treatments can sometimes control the melanoma for a time. 

But it is very hard to face the news that your melanoma is not responding to treatment and that it may eventually cause your death. Discovering you have advanced cancer brings up many different feelings. After the first shock it is normal to feel very angry or let down.

The coping with cancer section contains lots of information about coping and where you can get support including support groups and counselling.

 

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Your emotions

Being told you have advanced melanoma is understandably shattering. It is a difficult illness to treat when it has spread. But research is ongoing and melanoma can sometimes be controlled for months or years with biological therapies or chemotherapy.

But it is very hard to face the news that your melanoma is not responding to treatment and that it may eventually cause your death. There is information about the end stages of life with advanced melanoma further down this page.

Discovering you have advanced cancer brings up many different feelings. After the first shock it is normal to feel very angry and let down. You may want to direct your anger at

  • Your partner or family
  • Your doctor or nurse
  • Anyone you come into contact with

This strong anger nearly always passes. You can explain to people that you are angry about your illness and not at them. It can help to warn them that this may affect your behaviour for a while. You may want to contact a counselling service. Look at the organisations on the melanoma organisations page, as some of them provide counselling. Counselling can help you to make sense of your feelings.

 

Feeling uncertain about the future

Having advanced cancer can bring a lot of uncertainty to your life. This may be the hardest part of all. It can be a big strain if you have children, especially if they are young. You may be uncertain about their future too.

One way to reduce the stress of uncertainty is to make plans day by day. Some people say that living in the present helps them get more out of each day than when they were planning ahead all the time.

Uncertainty about the future can make you deeply worried about your partner, yourself and your family. You may be anxious about their feelings about your cancer, as well as perhaps worrying they may not be able to manage in the future.

It can be difficult to talk about these worries. It may seem that your friends and family shut you out if they behave as though everything is fine and try to carry on as normal. This can be hurtful and may make you feel as though they don't care. But there may be many reasons whey they do this, such as

  • They may want to keep life as normal as possible to make you feel better
  • They may be worried that if they say they feel afraid about the future, they are letting you down
  • They may have their own problems coping with their feelings

But talking about your feelings can be a release for all of you and can help you to come closer together. There is information about talking about cancer in the coping with cancer section.

 

Finding your own way

You may need some time to yourself to get to grips with your feelings. Don't feel you are being selfish if you need to keep things to yourself for a while. Taking time out is a natural way of coming to terms with difficult feelings. Tell your friends and family if you need a breathing space for a while. Then they won't feel left out. This also lets them know you are aware of their concern for you. You can say you will tell them your thoughts and feelings when you feel ready.

 

Feeling afraid

Your uncertainty and anger may be based on fear about dying. Doctors cannot know how long your life will be after a diagnosis of advanced melanoma. Treatments may help to keep it under control for a while. But no one knows for sure how long anyone will live and this can be very frightening. You may go through stages of feeling very anxious, which is very natural.

How you manage depends on many things

  • Your spiritual beliefs
  • Your personal hopes and fears
  • Your past experiences
  • And your relationships

Try to draw on the things that help you most.

 

When you feel very low

There may be times when you feel the situation is getting too much. When this happens, consider talking to your doctor or specialist nurse about your feelings. You may have depression. Your doctor or nurse may prescribe sleeping pills or anti depressants. These may give you the short term relief you need to get through a bad patch until you build up your emotional strength again. There is information about depression in the your feelings section.

Some people describe having cancer as like riding an emotional roller coaster. Sometimes you can feel very low. At other times you may be positive and hopeful.

There is no right or wrong way to react. How you manage advanced cancer is your choice. Your family, friends, doctors and nurses can all be called upon to help you. If you would like to talk to someone outside your own friends and family, look  for counselling organisations. The general section about coping with cancer has information about dealing with the emotional and practical impact of having cancer.

 

Getting help and support

There are many ways that people help themselves manage their melanoma and their feelings. You may get support from

  • Friends and family
  • Other people with advanced cancer
  • Counselling
  • Your religion or spiritual beliefs

You can make contact with other people who have melanoma through a cancer support group. There are cancer support groups throughout the country. Look at the melanoma organisations page for people who can give you suggestions about finding and joining a support group. You could also join Cancer Chat – a discussion forum run by Cancer Research UK. This is your space to talk to other people affected by cancer, share experiences, and find information.

Sometimes, when you are angry and upset your body can become very tense and full of suppressed energy. Exercise can help you get rid of this tension and energy so you may find it easier to relax. It does not need to be very strong exercise. If you are fit enough you could try gentle

Your may prefer to practice relaxation techniques. These can also relieve stress and tension. You can go to classes. Or use relaxation tapes at home. Most relaxation techniques use

You may be able to get relaxation tapes from your library, local bookshop, your cancer support group, or your specialist nurse.

Gentle massage can be very relaxing. Look at the complementary therapies section to find out more.

 

The end stages of life with advanced melanoma

This section briefly outlines some of the feelings and issues that you may face at this stage of your life. We have detailed information in our section about dying with cancer. You can also ask your doctors and nurses where you can find further information. 

If you are told that you are terminally ill and your cancer is likely to cause your death soon, then you will almost certainly find this devastating to hear. It will take time to take it in. It is important to give yourself that time. There is no right or wrong way to approach this. But it will help if you have someone to share your feelings with, even when you are not sure how you feel yourself.

It is very hard to have to face difficult decisions about the care you would like to have at the end of your life. Most people hope for a peaceful death, free of pain. With the right care this is usually possible.

Where you choose to die can be an important issue for some people. Some people choose to die in hospital or a hospice. But others hope that they can die at home in a familiar environment surrounded by the people close to them. Whether you choose to spend your last weeks at home, in a hospice or in hospital, it's important to know that you have the right to high quality care and symptom management.

Many people facing death want to complete unfinished business. This may mean

  • Resolving any problems you have with personal relationships
  • Visiting certain places
  • Buying gifts for people
  • Sorting out your personal belongings and giving special things away to family and friends
  • Getting your will and financial business in order
  • Seeing a religious leader

Everyone is different and there are no hard and fast rules about how you will feel and what you will want to do. You need to do what is right for you and what you feel able to do. As death gets closer you may begin to let go more and seem more at peace with things. Or you may become very anxious, fearful or angry. You may withdraw from the people close to you and this is natural. But this doesn’t mean that you don’t care anymore. These events are all very normal and a natural part of dying.

If you or your loved ones need some support during this time it may help to speak with

  • The doctor or nurses on the ward or in the community
  • A religious leader
  • A counsellor
  • Close friends and relatives

Try not to worry that you are putting people out and upsetting them. The most important person right now is you. It is important that you feel you have the support you need from family, friends and health professionals. Don’t be afraid to let people know how you are feeling and if you have any pain or other symptoms. Everyone is there to help you make this time as peaceful and pain free as possible.

There is information about coping with the symptoms of advanced melanoma in this section. There is also information about pain control in the section about coping physically with cancer.

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Updated: 24 January 2014