Mesothelioma is an aggressive and most often deadly kind of cancer. Getting a diagnosis and then living with this illness is difficult. Treatment for mesothelioma does not end with chemotherapy or radiation. If you are coping with having this type of cancer, you probably need other kinds of support. People with cancer often suffer from anxiety, depression, and fear. They struggle with side effects of treatment and they have difficult decisions to make.
Patients are not the only ones who need support in the wake of a mesothelioma diagnosis. Family and friends may also be struggling to come to terms with it and caregivers of those that are sick face a tough road ahead. On top of all the physical and emotional repercussions of living with mesothelioma, many patients and their caregivers also face financial difficulties. Getting support of all kinds, for everyone involved, is crucial in coping with this terrible disease.
Depression after a Mesothelioma Diagnosis
For the person diagnosed with mesothelioma, the emotional consequences are usually immediate and lasting. This is a type of cancer, most often caused by prolonged exposure to asbestos, that is aggressive and usually a death sentence. It is likely incurable because people tend to get diagnosed after it has reached the later stages, often after it has already spread to other parts of the body. It is a grim diagnosis with a prognosis that is not usually positive.
One of the most significant and common consequences of getting a diagnosis of any type of cancer is depression. This diagnosis is life-changing, it raises uncomfortable questions about the future, and I forces people to come to grips with saying good-bye to dreams and actually dying. It’s normal to feel sad over these things, but many patients may develop clinical depression.
Clinical depression is characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and emptiness. It means losing interest in things you once enjoyed and feeling guilty and worthless. Depression also causes physical symptoms like weight loss or gain, insomnia or excessive sleeping, and fatigue. If you are clinically depressed you may have difficulty concentrating and trouble making decisions, and you may feel restless or agitated. It is important to address depression because there are ways to treat it alongside your cancer.
Anxiety and Fear
Many patients receiving a diagnosis of mesothelioma are also likely to feel anxiety and fear. As with depression, these feelings are normal, but they can become extreme and even lead to panic attacks. Signs of severe anxiety and fear include constant worrying, tense muscles, difficulty focusing and completing tasks, feeling restless or on edge, feeling irritable and angry, shaking, trembling, and having a dry mouth.
Panic attacks are characterized by physical signs like chest pains, a racing heartbeat, sweating, trembling, chills, tingling sensations in the limbs, numbness, dizziness, shortness of breath, and a choking sensation. It may also make you feel like you have to escape, like you are being overwhelmed, or that you are detached or not real. As with depression, feelings of anxiety, fear, and panic can and should be addressed. Treatments and support can help.
Therapy after a Diagnosis
Having mesothelioma may cause feelings of depression, anxiety, and fear that range from mild, moderate, and normal, to severe and overwhelming. Whether you or your loved one with mesothelioma is suffering mild or severe symptoms, support can help. The worst thing you can do is bottle up your feelings, ignore them, and refuse to talk to anyone about how you really feel.
Even patients who do not qualify for an official diagnosis of anxiety disorder or depression can benefit from the support that therapy provides. Being diagnosed with mesothelioma is upsetting and working with a therapist is a great way to help you cope. In fact, research has shown that therapy for cancer patients helps them to experience a better quality of life and even boost the immune system and leads to a better overall outcome.
Another way to cope with a diagnosis of mesothelioma is to gather together with other people going through the same experience. Support groups are powerful in that they provide you with a safe place to talk about your feelings and everything else related to your illness, and they are made up of people who are like you, who understand you. That kind of support is something you can’t get from your friends and family, or even a therapist, no matter how much they care or try to understand what you are going through.
You can find mesothelioma or general cancer support groups to join either in person or online. Your doctor or cancer medical team is a great place to start for resources, but you can also search online for a group that works for you. This kind of support is invaluable and one of the best ways to cope with having mesothelioma.
Caregivers and Assisted Living
Support for mesothelioma is not just about emotional support, it can also be physical. When patients get to the point of being unable to care for themselves alone, assistance may be needed. This may be in the form of a caregiver who comes into the home to help out, or it may mean moving into a facility that provides round-the-clock support.
A caregiver may be someone who is hired to come to a patient’s home, but it could also be a family member or friend. Caregivers provide all kinds of support including doing chores around the house like cleaning, cooking, and running errands. They may also provide physical support to the patient like helping them dress, bathe, and use the bathroom. A medically-trained caregiver can also help with medicines, IV fluids, and other needs.
When it becomes more difficult for a patient to live in the home, or when the cost of having a nurse or other medical professional in the home is cost prohibitive, assisted living is a good option for support. These facilities provide all practical needs like meals and laundry, but they also provide the medical and physical support that mesothelioma patients need and that care is available 24 hours a day.
Caregivers also need support when taking care of the needs of a loved one with mesothelioma. Many families provide support for their sick loved ones, either out of a sense of obligation and love or because of the expense of hiring professionals. These caregivers may love their patients, but they can also get burned out easily, and they need their own support.
Being a caregiver for a sick loved one is stressful, it can cause depression and anxiety, and it impacts physical health. Caregivers can benefit from support groups and from getting help from other friends and family members. When the caregiver role is shared by more than one person, the burden is lowered for each caregiver. Caregivers need to speak up and talk about the challenges of their role and how it makes them feel. As with the patient, bottling up these feelings is damaging.
Caregivers can take care of themselves by seeking professional support, support groups, and help from other loved ones. They can also take other positive steps, like getting enough sleep, exercise, and healthy foods, by using stress-reducing techniques like meditation, and by taking time off from the duties of caregiving.
As if living with a mesothelioma diagnosis weren’t stressful enough, many patients and their caregivers also face the stress of financial burdens. Being sick is expensive. Insurance doesn’t always cover all costs of care and being sick often means being unable to work and earn a living. Caregivers may also face the need to stop working.
Financial support is an important part of coping with mesothelioma. There are resources available for patients, including charity organizations, government assistance, and assistance for veterans. Patients may also choose to take legal action if mesothelioma was cause by asbestos exposure in the workplace. Lawsuits and asbestos trust funds have provided many patients with much-needed financial support.
Hospice and End-of-Life Decisions
When a patient with mesothelioma has reached a point at which treatment is no longer helping, he or she, along with loved ones, have some difficult decisions to make. These include whether to continue with aggressive treatments or to use treatment only for palliative care, whether to take advantage of hospice care, as well as all the legal decisions that come with a terminal illness.
Hospice care is an important type of support for many patients nearing the end of life. It provides a safe place to live where the comfort of the patient is the top priority. Hospice offers emotional, spiritual, social, and medical support as a person enters the final stages of life.
Decisions about end of life matters are difficult at this point, but they can actually help the patient feel better. Knowing what will happen to money, possessions, pets, and any dependents help a patient feel more at peace with dying. It isn’t easy to make these decisions, but it is important. If you are facing these decisions, there are people who can provide support, including lawyers, doctors, and caregivers. Family members should also be involved to be supportive and to lessen the burden of making such important decisions.
If you are living with a mesothelioma diagnosis, getting support should be a top priority. You cannot face this alone. You need the love and support of family and friends; you need the support of a good medical team and caregiver; you also need the support of all the professionals that can help you make important decisions. If you are the loved one of someone with mesothelioma, you too need support. Don’t forget about your needs throughout this process.
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