Living Well During Treatment
Your melanoma treatment generally depends on how early the disease was diagnosed and whether it has spread—in other words, your stage. However, there are other important factors that may be considered such as the location of the melanoma, your overall health, your type of melanoma, if your melanoma has a gene mutation, and your goal of treatment. And your life during treatment will depend a lot on what kind of treatment you have and how you and your body responds to it. Below are some specific tips for improving your life during treatment.
It’s important that you educate yourself on melanoma and its treatments—your treatment and any other treatment available for your stage, in case you need to move from one treatment to another. AIM’s website is the best source for information on melanoma, so keep reading. We have many resources available that are specific to those going through treatment, such as our side effect management guides; Living with Melanoma symposiums; and our video library of melanoma topics. The more knowledge you have, the more you will understand your treatment, its side effects, and its goals. Knowledge is empowering, which is important because cancer can make you feel powerless.
Learn How to Order/Transfer Your Medical Records
It’s likely that at some point during your cancer diagnosis and treatment—and maybe more than once—you will find yourself in the office of a new doctor or at a new medical center. It is important that you learn how to order/transfer all of your medical records from one location to another. This process may include a phone call and signature or other authorization, but you or your designee will need to initiate that request.
Gather Your Information
AIM recommends ordering a copy of your entire melanoma medical record for yourself. Organize all of the documents into a binder so you can refer to it and bring it with you to appointments.
Read your reports. If you have questions on anything you see in your reports, ask your physician or reach out to our Ask A Melanoma Expert, who can answer your questions quickly and confidentially. Having your information all in one place and reading it is part of educating yourself: It allows you to understand as much as possible about your melanoma, treatment, and prognosis.
Note: Some people—especially some with late-stage melanoma—make a choice not to read the details of their disease, a completely understandable decision. But having a copy of your medical records is practical and helpful if you have a caregiver, who may need to access this information while caring for you.
When you do go to a new doctor for the first time, bring some information with you to at least your first appointment, such as your pathology report(s) and information on the drugs/dosages you’ve taken, so that you can give your new doctor accurate answers to important questions if your medical records have not yet been transferred.
Fatigue is common in those being treated for cancer. For some, this fatigue is not an ordinary type of tiredness but a “bone-weary” exhaustion that doesn’t seem to get better with rest. It can last a long time and make physical activity unappealing.
Exercise, however, can actually help you reduce fatigue. Studies have shown that patients who follow an exercise program tailored to their personal needs feel physically and emotionally improved and can cope better.
Exercise can improve your physical and emotional health:
- It improves your cardiovascular (heart and circulation) fitness.
- It strengthens your muscles.
- It reduces fatigue.
- It lowers anxiety and depression.
- It makes you feel generally happier.
- It helps you feel better about yourself.
Any program of physical activity should fit your own situation. For some, taking short walks is appropriate. For others, the amount of exercise can be much greater.
Talk with your health care team before starting any exercise program and get their opinion about your plans. Try to get a partner involved so you’re not exercising alone. Having family or friends involved when starting a new exercise program can give you that extra boost of support to keep you going when the push just isn’t there. If you have access to a personal trainer or if your cancer center offers classes or instructors, use these resources.
You will need to balance activity with rest. It is really hard for some people to allow themselves to rest when they are used to working all day, taking care of a household, or exercising regularly. Remember that it is okay to rest when you need to.
Eating healthy can be a challenge for anyone, but it can get even tougher during cancer treatment. For instance, treatment may change your sense of taste or cause nausea. You may lose weight because you’ve lost your appetite, or you may gain weight because you are not exercising as much.
If you are losing weight or have taste problems during treatment, do the best you can with eating and remember that these problems usually improve over time. You may also find it helpful to eat small portions every two to three hours instead of more standard meals. You may want to ask your cancer team for a referral to a dietician—an expert in nutrition—who can give you ideas on how to deal with some of the side effects of your treatment that affect eating and how to eat as healthy as possible during your treatment.
One of the best things you can do during or after treatment is to put healthy eating habits into place. You may be surprised at both the short-term and long-term benefits of some simple changes, like increasing the variety of healthy foods you eat.
Many people who have been through cancer feel they benefited from some kind of support. What’s best for you depends on your situation and personality. Some people feel comfortable in peer-support or education groups. Others would rather talk in an informal setting with close friends. Still others may feel more at ease talking one-on-one with a counselor, therapist, or spiritual advisor. Your cancer center may have support groups available, and your doctor may have a therapist or other recommendations. Try one or more of these support options and find what works for you.
If you aren’t sure who can help, contact AIM’s director of community engagement, who will help you find an appropriate group or resource.
Remember What Makes You Happy
Whatever has given you pleasure and calmed you in the past will likely be helpful while you are in treatment. Whether it’s yoga, reading, or hiking, try to keep doing whatever has made you happy, if you can. At the same time, look for new ways to find pleasure.
Having cancer and dealing with treatment can be time-consuming and emotionally draining, but it can also be a time to look at your life in new ways. For some, treatment affords the opportunity to look at other aspects of health, happiness, and life, beyond melanoma.
You can’t change the fact that you have cancer. What you can change is how you live your life – making healthy choices and feeling as well as possible, physically, and emotionally. AIM is here to help.