Life after treatment
After having melanoma, it's important to know how to take care of your skin and what to look out for.
Surviving cancer makes you evaluate what’s important in life, and my family are even more precious now. If you notice a freckle or mole, or if a new one suddenly appears, get it checked out straight away. And stay safe in the sun – a tan really isn’t worth it.
It’s important to check yourself for any signs of melanoma at least once a month. If another melanoma develops, the sooner it is found, the more chance there is of curing it. You’ll be asked to check (by looking and feeling):
your scar and the surrounding area
the lymph nodes nearby
your skin, from head to toe, for any new or changing moles – use the ABCDE list.
I think about my exposure to the sun all the time, and wear suncream. Even when I’m driving and my arm is resting on the window, I’m conscious of it.
After treatment for melanoma, it’s important to protect your skin from the sun. This doesn’t mean that you can no longer enjoy sunshine or have holidays in sunny countries. But you’ll need to be careful, and you must make sure your skin does not burn. Over time, this will become part of your normal routine. There are a number of things you can do to protect your skin:
Stay out of the sun or strong sunlight during the hottest part of the day – usually between 11am and 3pm.
Wear clothing made of cotton or natural fibres, which have a close weave and give more protection against the sun.
Keep your arms and legs covered by wearing long-sleeved tops and trousers. Wear a wide-brimmed hat to protect your face, neck and ears.
Always wear sunglasses in strong sunlight.
Use a high-factor sunscreen (SPF 30 or above) whenever you’re exposed to the sun. Follow the instructions on the bottle and re-apply it as recommended, especially after swimming. Choose one that protects against both UVA and UVB radiation (known as broad spectrum).
Don’t use sunscreen instead of other methods of protecting your skin. Some people think that if they use sunscreen, they can stay out in the sun for longer. But the best protection is to cover up and to stay out of strong sunlight.
Don’t use a sunbed or sunlamp. If it’s important for you to look tanned, use fake tan lotions or sprays.
If you have a skin condition and use a sunbed as part of your treatment, your dermatologist will advise you to stop using the sunbed.
If you always keep your skin covered, talk to your doctor about whether you should take vitamin D supplements.
Having a family can be an important part of moving on with life after cancer. If you’re thinking of becoming pregnant or fathering a child after having melanoma, talk to your specialist first. In some situations, they may advise you to avoid having children for a couple of years after your diagnosis, as this is the most likely time for melanoma to come back.
For women who do become pregnant, there‘s no evidence that this will make a melanoma more likely to come back.
Coping with a change in appearance
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Depending on your surgery, you may have some small scars or you may have larger areas of skin that now look different. Some scars may be more visible, for example on your face.
People cope with changes in appearance differently. Some people may not be very upset by them. Others find these changes harder to cope with or feel very self-conscious. It isn’t always related to the size or visibility of the change – a small, hidden scar can still affect a person’s confidence or sexuality. Everyone is different.
Give yourself time to get used to the changes. You may find you feel better about them after a while. Scars will also become less noticeable as time goes on.
Some skin clinics have a make-up specialist who can advise you on the best way to cover up scars. There are also organisations such as The British Association of Skin Camouflage or Changing Faces that provide camouflage make-up to cover up scars.
If you’re finding things difficult, it’s important to get support. You may find it helps to talk to your hospital team, someone close to you or a trained counsellor.
Most people experience many different emotions when they are told they have melanoma. You may feel anxious and upset for a while. These feelings are part of the process people go through while dealing with a cancer diagnosis.
Talking to family and friends about how you are feeling often helps. You can also get support and advice from your doctor or specialist nurse.
Worrying about the cancer coming back
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One of the biggest and most common worries people have after treatment is that their cancer may come back. Even if your melanoma has been cured, you may still worry.
The section on worrying about cancer coming back may be helpful. It includes suggestions on coping with this, and tells you where to get further support if it becomes hard to cope.
Dr Isabel White talks about some of the possible effects cancer and its treatment can have on your sexuality.