For people living with and beyond melanoma (and their loved ones), holidays, birthdays and anniversaries are often accompanied by complex emotions. While a celebratory event might elicit joy, these events may also lead to anxiety, grief, guilt, and fear about melanoma coming back or getting worse. Anniversaries of major medical events e.g., diagnosis, end of treatment, melanoma recurrence or death of a loved one can be particularly challenging.
Why are these dates challenging?
Even for people without melanoma, holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and special events are often a busy and emotional time. On significant dates, people tend to reflect on the year that has passed, and on their lives more broadly. This may include thinking about melanoma and the impact it has had on your life, and on the life of your loved ones. Sometimes this leads to worry about life, melanoma and potentially death. It is common for people to feel a range of emotions around these times.
Additionally, you might have ongoing effects from treatment, such as tiredness, nausea or loss of appetite, which make it hard to enjoy celebrations or socialising as you once did. You might be connecting with people you haven’t seen for a while who ask questions and want to talk about your melanoma, while you might just want to forget about it for the moment. Sometimes people can feel pressure to enjoy special days and ‘make every moment count’ which can contribute to feelings of anxiety and guilt.
Tips for looking after yourself:
- Allow yourself to feel – there is a common expectation that special occasions are filled with joy and happiness. However, it is okay if you are having a more reflective time, or experiencing some painful emotions, such as loss, grief, or anxiety. Allow yourself to feel whatever comes up and consider sharing your feelings with people you trust. A problem shared is often a problem halved!
- Presence – Sometimes we may do the things that matter, all the while thinking about melanoma, upcoming scans, or even little things, like what to put on the shopping list or have for dinner. All these thoughts take us away from meaningful experiences. When you notice that your mind has wondered, gently redirect it to the important thing that you are currently doing. You will find that you will feel more connected, present, and more content.
- Plan to rest – it may be helpful to schedule time to rest (if you need it) as special occasions can get busy and sometimes overwhelming, especially if you are experiencing fatigue following melanoma treatment.
- Ask for help – allow yourself not to be able to do as much as usual and ask for help if you need it.
If your friend or family member has been diagnosed with melanoma, the following tips might also be helpful:
Tips to look after yourself:
• Acknowledge that this time may be hard for you too, and that you may experience mixed emotions. Allow yourself to feel whatever comes up and be open about your experiences. You may find that you and your loved one are sharing many similar emotions.
• Allow yourself to do things that are important even though your loved one may not be able to.
• Focus on getting the basics right (routine, sleep, diet, exercise) which will give you energy and vitality to look after yourself and your loved one.
Whether you are living with melanoma or supporting someone who has the disease, if you feel you need additional support, speak to someone. Some resources include:
- Melanoma Patients Australia 1300 884 450
- Cancer Council 13 11 20
- Lifeline 13 11 14
- MensLine 1300 78 99 78
- BeyondBlue 1300 22 4636 or chat online
- Or speak to your GP or oncologist about options for psychological support.