How Do You Take Care of a Melanoma Patient’s Self-Fulfilling Needs?
A cancer patient also has Self-Fulfilling Needs. These needs are related to self-actualization, and caregivers can play an important role in helping their loved ones in this area, too.
Self-Fulfilling Needs: Helping Your Loved Ones With Self-Actualization
Like all of us, patients with melanoma need to feel self-actualized, which means becoming the best version of one’s self. For people with melanoma, this might mean establishing new goals and working to achieve them. Or it might mean seeking to make meaning of their cancer experience or come to terms with it.
How can someone come to terms with cancer, and how can a caregiver help? In a recent study of people who survived mouth or gastrointestinal cancer, about half reported that they wanted to find meaning in their experience of illness.[i] Serious illnesses can cause an existential crisis as well as spiritual distress. How people deal with this distress varies based on faith and cultural traditions. For some people, spirituality equates to religion and will be governed by a specific set of beliefs and practices, usually in the context of an organized religious group. For other people, spirituality is more related to an individual’s sense of peace, purpose, connection to other people, and beliefs about life’s meaning. So people can be spiritual, religious, or both, and these beliefs or faith can help a cancer patient make meaning of their journey. As the caregiver, your support of your loved one’s attempts to make meaning will be helpful.
Spirituality can be a very important aspect of your loved one’s melanoma journey. When spiritual needs are not met, the person with cancer can experience poor outcomes and a reduced quality of life.[ii] As mentioned on other pages in this caregiving section, the oncology team should serve as a compassionate presence during every stage of the patient’s journey. This presence can lead to healing by finding meaning, hope, or a sense of coherence even in the midst of the illness. In addition, the healthcare team that is checked into spiritual needs might be able to provide some basic support and may also bring in resources from trained professionals as needed (for example, referring to chaplains as spiritual care specialists). Caregivers can also help the clinical team address these issues. On the personal side, caregivers are often in a good position to help connect their loved ones to their established spiritual support systems or to new resources as needed.
Spirituality can help provide perspective, hope, and peace during the process. For many patients surviving melanoma, there is a potential upside to the cancer journey. Some survivors can experience enhanced meaning through relationships, experiences, resilience, and goal orientation. There are stories about people learning to appreciate the small things in life after a cancer diagnosis. However, for other people, the cancer experience can lead to a loss of meaning in their lives.[iii] Therefore, it’s important for patients, when they are ready, to explore the existential aspects of the cancer experience. For those patients who will, unfortunately, not have a good outcome, the spiritual aspects may be particularly important as they grapple with mortality, the experience of suffering, and leaving a legacy for their loved ones. As your loved one explores these heavy subjects, your support will be critical.
Finally, making meaning from the melanoma experience can lead some survivors to become advocates, peer supporters, and resources for other patients going through the journey. In fact, some of the events that survivors choose to participate in, such as for-cause physical activities like AIM at Melanoma’s Steps Against Melanoma Walks, serve a dual purpose of helping others while giving the survivors an opportunity for more regular physical activity and improved quality of life.[iv] There are many avenues for patients living with melanoma to help others and “pay it forward,” and as a caregiver, you may be able to help research the appropriate avenues for your loved one.
“When my wife was some time out from her treatment, she began helping out other patients on a cancer journey through a young survivor’s network. At times, this got emotional for her, particularly if someone was not doing well. I questioned whether it was worth it in those instances. But for the most part, I think she benefitted from helping other people on a similar journey….”
Gavin S., caregiver