Straight Talk about Mesothelioma, a blog series created by Michael T. Milano, M.D., Ph.D., a radiation oncology specialist, as a resource for mesothelioma patients and their loved ones.
After receiving a mesothelioma diagnosis, it’s natural to feel sad, angry, listless, or just plain “different” from how you used to feel. Mesothelioma, like other deadly diseases, can severely impact a patient’s mood and general outlook on life. This can happen at any point during the process, from initial diagnosis and throughout treatment. From the very first day that a doctor delivers the news, mesothelioma patients often struggle on how to handle the changes that their new reality brings.
All of these reactions and emotions are natural. It’s important to realize that if you are battling mesothelioma, you are not alone. Thousands of Americans suffer from this disease, and around 3,200 new cases are diagnosed each year. Though dealing with mesothelioma is extremely difficult, there are many resources for mesothelioma patients, and it’s important to learn about them and to take advantage of the support that’s available to you.
Mesothelioma & Your Feelings
As with any kind of cancer, coping with mesothelioma is going to be a long and difficult process. There’s the shock of the diagnosis, and in the immediate days that follow, as the realization sets in. Long and involved treatments can also take a toll, and depression and anxiety can show themselves in a number of ways. Sometimes it’s a matter of losing one’s routine or feeling out of place, dealing with wait times in doctor’s offices, or not having enough to do throughout the day. There are obvious factors that can also cause mesothelioma patients to become distressed, some related to the logistics and costs of care and treatment, and other things like job and household responsibilities, which may need to take a back seat during this time.
It’s important for caregivers and family members to recognize signs of clinical depression in mesothelioma patients. Such signs can include:
- Changes to eating and sleeping schedules
- Excessive fatigue
- Different perceptions of themselves and others
- Lack of interest in work or leisure activities
The effects of depression and anxiety on mesothelioma patients can be broad. Reports from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) show that individuals with depression and/or anxiety can be at higher risk for memory problems. Their study shows how mesothelioma victims may be more prone to negative emotions, negative views about the world, and depressed behaviors.
However, mesothelioma patients can still help themselves to feel better – or even just feel like their old selves – with the right support in place. Good support means being able to feel confident about handling the costs of treatment and care – for example, not stressing over huge medical bills or paid help. It means having loyal caregivers on hand, and it means leaning on the support that’s available from a community.
Looking to Others for Help Is Key to Good Emotional Management
So what does “community support” mean? It often starts with relying on friends and family members, and expressing your feelings, instead of keeping them bottled up. Often, it’s helpful to keep up a daily routine, rather than dropping everything, as many cancer patients have a tendency to do.
In addition, mesothelioma patients who practice religion may find solace in seeking therapy and support from their churches, synagogues, mosques, or religious institutions. Many places of worship offer one-on-one counseling and support groups.
All of these choices involve the company of others. The age-old rule comes into play: Power in numbers. People and groups are ways to remind someone that they are not alone and that they are traveling down their tough road alongside others.
Other Ways of Managing Your Emotions
There are also ways that a victim of mesothelioma can be proactive in dealing with the emotional impact of the disease. This often involves finding new ways of spending time and new ways of interacting with other people. Some of the following activities and initiatives can really change a patient’s outlook:
- Talking to doctors and learning more about a condition to make it seem less ominous
- Taking part in community events that previously conflicted with a work schedule
- Preparing a list of things and activities that someone has always wanted to do
- Cultivating hobbies – managing personal collections or pursuing other hobby activities
Any of these activities, including pursuing new goals, can help a patient to “manage” his or her emotions – they can help to make the condition and the reality less of a looming cloud over each day.
Tips for Caregivers
For caregivers, it’s important to give both emotional support as well as the day-to-day routine support that many mesothelioma patients require. The goal is to try to help a loved one manage their feelings. They are undergoing tough processes such as chemotherapy and radiation treatment. It often helps to take things “one day at a time” and to try and refocus negative emotions.
Caregivers might also benefit from counseling as well as mesothelioma support groups specifically for caregivers.
For patients and caregivers, it’s important to remember that having mesothelioma is not your or someone else’s fault. And it’s not wrong to feel extreme emotions around a diagnosis, during treatment, or even after a certain treatment or surgery has ended. The key is to take control, to take those feelings and channel them into something positive. With this kind of philosophy in mind, and with community support, the emotions around this challenge can be a lot easier to handle.