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Living Well With Melanoma > Looking After Yourself

Looking After Yourself

Living with melanoma can have an impact on all aspects of your life.1 That’s why looking after yourself is especially important. But what does looking after yourself mean? And how can you do it when you’re facing other challenges? There are simple things you can do every day that can help you feel better and live better with melanoma. Small things can make a big difference.



Taking time to relax can be a good way to manage the challenges of everyday life and the challenges of living with melanoma.2

When it comes to relaxing, sometimes it’s easier said than done. But just like anything else, relaxation is a skill that we can learn by practicing it. The trick is to give a few things a try and see what works best for you.

There are lots of ways to relax. Some ways are designed to relax your mind, and some focus on relaxing your body. But because mind and body are connected, many methods help relax both. Here are a few you can try.

Aim to schedule at least one relaxing activity every day. Most of these activities take as little as 15 minutes to do. But why stop there? If you continue longer, your mind and your body will thank you for it!

Relaxing your mind

  • Practice a breathing exercise. You can find a simple exercise here:
  1. Find a comfortable position, such as lying in bed on your back or on the floor with a pillow under your head. You may choose to sit in a chair with your shoulders, head, and neck supported.
  2. Take a deep breath through your nose. Let your belly fill with air.
  3. Slowly release the air through your nose.
  4. Place one hand on your stomach; the other on your chest.
  5. As you inhale, feel your stomach rise. As you exhale, feel it sink. The hand on your stomach should move more than the hand on your chest.
  6. Repeat this 3 more times, inhaling deeply each time. Feel your belly rise and fall with each breath.
  • Listen to soothing music. Find a comfortable position. Close your eyes and notice the different musical instruments, the melodies, the chorus, and the different verses.
  • Practice mindful meditation by focusing on things that are happening right now. Pay attention to your breathing: is it fast, slow, deep, or shallow? Notice your muscles: are they tense or are they relaxed? You could also listen to the sounds in your environment. Do you hear traffic, children, birds, or nothing at all? Be aware of these noises as they come and go.3
  • Use visualization to take yourself somewhere else. Imagine yourself in a place that helps you feel calm and relaxed—maybe a favorite beach, a forest, or a garden. Tune in to your senses. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you smell? What can you feel? What can you taste?4

Relaxing your body

  • Select a few yoga poses you enjoy and practice them regularly.2
  • Do some light stretching. You can stretch your fingers and toes, your arms and legs, or your torso. You can do it in a chair, on the floor, or wherever you’re most comfortable.2
  • Practice a muscle relaxation exercise.2 You can find a simple exercise here:
  • Take a stroll around your neighborhood or do some other light physical activity—gardening and housework count too!
  • Get a massage or have someone give you a back rub.
  • Soak in a warm bath; add bubbles or an essential oil if you’d like. Pay attention to the water as it surrounds your body. Feel the bubbles, and smell the oil.
  • Have a warm drink that doesn’t have alcohol or caffeine in it, like herbal tea or warm milk. Focus on how it feels as you drink it.

Get physical


Exercise is an important part of looking after yourself. It can help you feel better, both physically and emotionally. Pain and fatigue can make it harder to exercise, but exercise can ease these symptoms. Be sure to talk with your doctor before you start an exercise program or change your level of physical activity.

Here are a few exercise tips:

  • Try to work some form of exercise into your everyday routine. Consider doing some housework or gardening.
  • Exercise doesn’t have to mean going to the gym. Finding some gentle or moderate exercises you can do at home, such as yoga or tai chi, is a good place to start.
  • You can benefit from exercise even if you do it for just a few minutes a day. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you can’t manage more than that in one day.
  • Do an exercise you enjoy. This will help make exercise something you look forward to and help you stick with it longer.
  • Remember to also get enough rest to help your body recover.
  • Pay attention to your symptoms. Don’t exercise if you don’t feel well.
  • If you’re not sure where to start, ask your doctor for some tips.

Be sure to talk with your doctor about which of these activities are appropriate for you.


Pace yourself 

It’s important to pace yourself throughout the day. Pacing is about finding a balance between times of activity and times of rest. Resting is important because it gives your body time to repair and recover. Even when your daily life is keeping you busy, remember that taking a break may help you do more over the long term.2

Pacing is also important when you’re feeling fatigued or out of energy, which is common for those living with melanoma. When you feel very tired, being active is often the last thing you want to do. These tips for pacing yourself may help:2

  • Plan your daily tasks in order and spend your time doing the most important ones first.
  • Break a task down into smaller chunks. For example, instead of trying to clean your whole house in one day, try tackling just one room to start.
  • If you need help getting something done, don’t be afraid to ask. People generally like to be able to help.

Sleep well

We often don’t appreciate sleep until we have sleep problems. If we don’t get the sleep we need, it can be harder to function during the day. It can affect how we think, feel, and behave. There are many types of sleep problems, like5:

  • Trouble falling asleep
  • Waking in the night and having trouble getting back to sleep
  • Waking early in the morning
  • Thinking you’ve slept long enough but still feeling tired

Because of sleep’s effect on physical health, emotions, and thinking, better sleep may help to create daily life improvements while on treatment for cancer.11 If you have a sleep problem, these tips may help you get a better night’s sleep.


How much sleep do we need?

You may have heard that 8 hours of sleep is considered a good night’s rest, but everyone is different. For most adults, experts recommend anywhere from 6 to 10 hours of sleep each night. Older adults generally need less sleep. People being treated for cancer may tire more easily and need extra sleep. They may also have a harder time falling asleep. If you have fatigue, you may also need more sleep. You should try to sleep as much as possible to rest your body. If you think you're not getting the right amount of sleep, ask your doctor for advice on what you can do.6

Improve your sleep habits

If you don’t think you’re getting enough sleep, give these tips a try. Some might lead to changes that are quite easy, while others may seem harder. Some people may already know what they need to change. For instance, if you drink a lot of coffee in the evenings, you may want to consider cutting back.6,7 For others, it might be less obvious, so it will be worth trying a few tips to see what works best.


  • Caffeine is a powerful stimulant that is known to get in the way of a good night’s sleep. It is found in tea, coffee, cola, some sports drinks, most energy drinks, chocolate bars, and some medicines.
  • Try not to have caffeine within 6 hours of bedtime.
  • If you like to have a warm drink before bed, try decaffeinated coffee, herbal tea, or a warm, milky drink.


  • Alcohol interrupts our natural sleep cycle. Alcohol often makes us feel sleepy at first, but eventually we start to feel more awake. That’s why we tend to be more restless in the second half of the night if we’ve been drinking.
  • Limit alcohol, especially after dinner.


  • Eating regular meals helps the body to get into a routine that signals sleep time.
  • Try to have your evening meal at a regular time, 3 to 4 hours before going to bed.
  • If you like to have a bedtime snack, try bananas or dairy products, such as warm milk. These foods are high in the amino acid tryptophan, which is thought to signal the chemicals that help the body sleep.


  • Studies have shown that regular exercise can help us sleep better because it triggers chemicals that bring on sleep.
  • However, it’s best not to exercise at least 3 hours before bedtime because it can make you feel more awake and energized. Instead, try to keep up a good level of activity that is right for you throughout the day.


  • Many people believe that a cigarette helps them to relax. This is untrue. Like coffee, nicotine is a powerful stimulant. Smokers tend to have less restful sleep than nonsmokers.
  • If you do smoke, try not to smoke within 2 to 3 hours of bedtime.

Sleep environment7:

  • Your bedroom can have a big impact on how sleepy and relaxed you feel. Try to make sure that it’s quiet, dark, and at the right temperature for you.
  • Some people find that regular noise, called white noise, helps them sleep. This noise can be from an air conditioner, a fan, or a sound machine. Falling asleep with the TV or radio on may seem to be helping, but it can make your sleep more restless. The change in sound may stop you from falling into a deep sleep and may wake you at times during the night. If you have to fall asleep with the radio on, set a timer so that it turns off automatically.
  • Some people find that they watch the clock when they’re struggling to sleep. That can increase anxiety. Put clocks out of sight, and don’t be tempted to peek.

Anxiety and tension5,6:

  • Worrying about things can make it harder to get to sleep. Try setting aside time before bedtime to write down your worries and what you plan to do about them the next day. If you wake up in the night, remind yourself that you have given these worries time already and that going over them now won’t help.
  • A back rub or foot massage may also help you to relax before bedtime.

Sleep habits:

The body is very good at linking physical states (like sleepiness) with objects or places (like the bedroom). These are a few steps you can take to ensure that you rest better at night:

  • Sleep as much as your body tells you to, but when you are awake, try to exercise at least once a day, at least 2 to 3 hours before bedtime.6
  • If you don’t fall asleep within 20 minutes of going to bed, get up and go to another room. Find quiet, mindless activities to do until you begin to feel tired, then go back to bed.Do this as many times as you need. 
  • Take short daytime naps if needed (less than an hour) to avoid affecting nighttime sleep.6
  • Take prescribed pain or sleep medications at the same time every evening.6
  • Avoid using electronic devices before bedtime.7
  • Talk with your healthcare team about relaxation techniques to help you sleep better at night.6

Love your body

Our body image is formed by years of making judgments about how we look. We tend to exaggerate what we don’t like and downplay the good parts. It’s true for almost everyone, but it can be especially true for people living cancer.

Living with melanoma may have changed the way you think about your body. It also may have made you more likely to make negative judgments about your body. Your body may not look or feel the way it did before you had cancer. You may be more aware of certain aspects of your body.9

You may also be more self-conscious of what parts of your body you let others see.9 This is especially true if you have feelings of guilt: maybe you think you wouldn’t have melanoma if you had made different lifestyle choices. The site of the scar may be a visible reminder of that.

But it’s important to remember that our negative thoughts about our body image might not be true. Our partners and those around us are generally more accepting of our bodies than we are. Learning to accept the changes in our bodies can be hard. Next time you’re in front of the mirror, say to yourself: “I accept and embrace my body the way it is.”

Your body has gone through a lot, and it continues to endure a lot now. Why not celebrate that? Your body deserves some love and care for all it is going through. Below are a few ideas for pampering it:

  • Get a shave and haircut
  • Get a manicure or a pedicure
  • Visit a spa for a massage or a facial
  • Treat yourself to a new outfit or a new pair of shoes
  • Do a hobby you normally don’t have time for
  • Take a long soak in a fragrant bubble bath
  • Put on some comfortable clothes and read a book
  • Curl up and watch a movie
  • Buy a fancy moisturizer and massage it into your skin
  • Try a new hairstyle
  • Take a day off and do nothing
  • Treat yourself to your favorite comfort food or a meal at your favorite restaurant

For the latest guidelines during the pandemic, visit World Health Organization


  1. American Society of Clinical Oncology. Melanoma: coping with treatment. Types of Cancer.
  2. National Cancer Institute. Facing Forward: Life After Cancer Treatment.
  3. Benefits of mindfulness. A Harvard Health Article.
  4. Visualization and guided imagery techniques for stress reduction. Stress.
  5. Springboard Beyond Cancer. Sleep problems. Symptoms.
  6. Sleep Foundation.
  7. American Cancer Society. Sleep problems. Treatment & Support.
  8. Snyder C. 8 steps to a restful night’s sleep. American Society of Clinical Oncology [blog].
  9. National Sleep Foundation. What to do when you can’t sleep. Insomnia.
  10. Melanoma Network of Canada. Melanoma scarring—living with visible scars. What It Means to Survive a Lifelong Journey With Visible Scars.
  11. Health Central. Skin cancer: the stigma of “It’s Your Fault.” Skin Cancer.