Skin Cancer : Prevention, Treatment & Care


  Prevention & Care


Social and Emotional Support: Q & A

I got a call from my cousin and heard that my aunt was diagnosed with skin cancer. My aunt lives 10 hours away and I haven't really been close to her throughout the years. I feel really bad about this, but I dread how awkward the meeting will be. What do you tell someone who is likely dying? I really don't look forward to this, but I know that I can't just ignore it. Please help.

Hello Anne:
It seems to me like you may be jumping the gun a bit. Has your cousin told you over the phone that your aunt is dying? Although some skin cancers can be fatal, the great majority of skin cancers can be and are cured without complication, usually by surgical excision. Skin cancers caught in its early stages have a cure rate as high as 98%. Before meeting your aunt, I would find out what the actual situation is as best as possible. To answer the second part of your question, if your aunt is gravely ill or dying, remember that they need the most support at this time. Many people feel anxious about being around a dying person, or are afraid that they may offend the sick person in some way. In most cases, the anxiety fades once you make the visit; you will likely be glad that you made the visit, regardless of your aunt's prognosis.

My mom told me that my grandfather is dying with skin cancer. I love him a lot, but I'm afraid that I will get sick too if I go and visit.

I'm very sorry to hear about your grandfather. Caleb, I assure you that you can't get sick from your grandfather. Cancer cannot be passed to others like the cold or the flu. Your grandfather would love to see you, and I'm sure that you would love to see your grandfather.

I've got a few moles on my body, and I keep having this suspicion that one may be a melanoma. Our first child is due next month, and I just can't risk this at this point in my life. My wife says that I'm being silly, and it's true; I was always a bit paranoid with all these medical scares-there's simply too much information out there. I mean, something rare like a 0.2% chance really isn't that rare when there are thousands of possible diseases that one can catch at any given time. Am I just a hypochondriac or should I get my moles checked?

Hello Robert:
I agree with you that the abundance of available information can be overwhelming at times. Arming yourself with knowledge on the other hand, can also give you comfort and perspective. As for the moles, remember the ABCDEs of skin cancer-Asymmetry, Borders (uneven), Color (different from surrounding skin), Diameter (larger than a pencil eraser), and Evolution (changing). If you notice one or more of these features, have them checked out. Chances are high that they are harmless moles, but if the doctor tells you this, you have bought yourself great peace of mind for the cost of a few hours. On the other hand, if medical worries are a constant source of anxiety for you, talk to your doctor about this too. They can refer you to a specialist who can help you with these types of problems too.

I am a single man in my thirties, and I have a melanoma that has metastasized to the lungs. I lived healthy, ate well, did not smoke, and was by no means a sun worshipper. I've been doing some research on my own, and from what I've read, it seems like my survival rate at 12 months is as low as 20%. I am not a religious person, but I really need some support, some hope.

I am very sorry to hear about your situation. First, I suggest that you discuss your individual prognosis with your physician that is caring for you. Personally researching medical articles can be helpful, but remember that only your physician knows your personal medical details. Secondly, remember that general medical statistics are very poor when it comes to predicting individual outcomes. Please read an article called "The Median isn't the Message" by the celebrated author on evolutionary biology, Stephen Jay Gould about his battle with a serious cancer that was thought to be incurable. It is a hope inspiring article, and at the same time truly eye-opening for cancer patients. Finally, join our online community of support. There are many others that are there to support you, and are, in turn, looking for your support.

I come from a family of sun worshippers. Here in Australia, tanning at the beach is part of the local custom and culture. It's something my parents and my grandparents have always done, and to them, the new wave of vilifying the sun is "bullocks" as they call it. I can see though, that the sun has done its damage to their skin, and I worry for them. My grandfather has several actinic keratoses, but won't seek treatment, as he thinks it's just a part of natural aging. I'm worried about myself too, as I used to go the beach like them on a daily basis.

Hello Suzanne:
I understand that this is a relatively common belief among the older generation, especially in areas of the world where there is plenty of sunlight. I strongly suggest that you have your grandfather come in for a visit to a clinic. Actinic keratosis is considered a precancerous lesion and should be treated as a medical issue. It is also strong evidence that the skin has taken a lot of sun damage. Having a doctor explain it to your grandfather may help to convince him that sun damage is real and dangerous. The sun is not a "villain." We all need the sun to survive, and the sun is the most efficient way for our bodies to absorb vitamin D. At the same time, we also need to respect that it is powerful enough to damage our bodies if we do not protect ourselves properly. Knowing this, you can start to make better decisions-sunscreen use on a regular basis, protective clothing, and staying away from overexposure. Remember that it is never too late to change your lifestyle for the better.

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