Today’s melanoma symposium in Seattle featured a panel of patients telling their stories. Some have been fighting melanoma for years. One was recently diagnosed. They spoke of their treatments - surgeries, radiation, various drugs – and their side effects.
I asked them about scan anxiety. All cancer patients have to be scanned to mark the progression of disease. And when there is no evidence of disease, they still have to be scanned on a regular basis to see if their cancer has returned. Melanoma is notorious for coming back, sometimes long after everyone thought it had been vanquished from the body.
Patients often speak of a growing sense of uncertainty, of unease as the date for their next scan comes closer. Has my cancer come back? Is that a new lump under my arm? Has this mole changed? I had a headache last night—does that mean the cancer is in my brain?
This panel had a different take, however. One person said, “I don’t worry about it. That isn’t who I am. Scans are just part of my routine now and no matter what they reveal I will deal with it.” Another said, “My only time for worrying is after the scan and until I get the results. After all, the doctor is about to walk through the door and either tell me all is fine or let me know I have to start the cancer fight all over again.”
A third patient said something that was the most striking to me. “I refused to let cancer define my life. My happiness as a person is not dependant on whether or not my cancer has returned. I choose to be positive and to enjoy the amount of life I have left, and the scans are not going to change that.”
Words to live by, indeed.