Managing Advanced Melanoma

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 11,317
    Tim Turnham, Ph.D., of the Melanoma Research Foundation discusses how patients can deal with advanced stages of melanoma.

    Tim Turnham: Hi! I am Tim Turnham with the Melanoma Research Foundation. Today, I am talking about Melanoma, and now I want to discuss the importance of having a good support network as you navigate this cancer.

    Treatment options for advanced Melanoma are limited. The good news is that a lot of new drugs are being tested. Unfortunately, this means that patients and even doctors are not always clear on what approach has the best chance of being successful, and almost every treatment has side-effects; some of which can be quite challenging.

    Kevin Stenstrom: The side-effects and what happens when you are ongoing on treatment is, it's a lot of times tougher on the family than it is on the patient. I mean when I was going through IL-2, there are plenty of times where I was basically out of it, being hooked up on monitors or having bad symptoms, and my wife was sitting there and having to deal with it and ask the nurse what was going on and get help or support from the doctors or nurses to monitor me, and see how I am going, whereas I just either really have comatose.

    Tim Turnham: Because of these uncertainties, it is important that patients, particularly those with stage three or stage four cancer, take control of their fight against melanoma.

    Simply put, patients who are well informed and well supported have the best chance to live longer and better. If you have been diagnosed with advanced melanoma, you should give serious consideration to seeing a doctor at a location that treats a lot of people with melanoma.

    The field is changing very quickly. At hospitals and cancer centers, that see a lot of people with melanoma are most likely to be informed of these new developments.

    You should also learn about different treatment options before making any decisions about treatment. Some courses of treatment will prevent you from taking other approaches later.

    The treatment option you take is a personal decision and no doctor can or should make this decision for you. A lot will depend on your own place in life; your tolerance for risk, and your ability to manage side-effects. Being informed of the choices, will go a long way to ensuring that the treatment plan is a reflection of your own goals, values, and view of life, just as being informed is important.

    Finding support from other patients can also make a big difference in the treatment experience. Any cancer diagnosis causes tremendous stress and melanoma has some characteristics that are particularly challenging.

    Many melanoma patients have lymph nodes removed and this sometimes causes swelling called Lymphedema. People who experience this often discover interesting and novel ways of managing the problem, and are happy to share this information with others, as well as advise and understanding of other side-effects.

    Cancer treatment is an emotional rollercoaster for the patient and for that patient's caregivers. They live with it everyday knowing that their father has a disease that can kill him. And it is the same thing with my wife. She has not only deal with me, but deal with our children and their emotions dealing with cancer, and it's not like some cancers where after five years if you have not had a recurrence they deem you cancer free.

    Melanoma, it will always be there. So always mentally we have to fight this disease and my family has to fight this disease with me.

    Tim Turnham: Finding a system of support for yourself and everyone affected by your melanoma can make a tremendous difference. This is particularly critical for people with advanced disease.

    The easiest way to do this is through online communities where patients and caregivers offer peer-to-peer information and support. Some cancer centers offer in person supports groups for melanoma patients, and these can also be beneficial.

    Whatever is most effective for you, the key is to find a way to become informed and a way to receive the support you need.

    If you want to learn more, check out our other videos about melanoma, including information on the latest advances and research.