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Pet Therapy for Mesothelioma Patients

People who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma often spend much of their time traveling from hospital to physician to treatment, all in a quest to fend off the disease, improve the quality of their life and make themselves feel better. Between drugs, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and various physical therapies to help them regain strength and the capabilities that their illness may have robbed them of, it seems as if there is little time left for activities that bring pleasure. Pet-assisted therapy can accomplish both physical and mental healing while at the same time giving them tremendous enjoyment and stress relief.

What is Pet Therapy?

Pet therapy or animal therapy can encompass a number of different types of animal-assisted activities. It can be as simple as a canine or feline visitation, having a companion animal with you, or going through pet-facilitated therapy. The idea behind all of the various modes of pet therapy is that the companionship of an animal can provide a great deal of comfort and alleviate the feelings that a mesothelioma patient often has of being alone, or of being anxious or depressed.

Pet therapy has been studied extensively and found to have an extremely positive effect on the emotional well-being and quality of life of mesothelioma patients. It offers emotional connection as well as tactile, and those who have used the therapy report reductions in their feelings of stress, grief, loneliness and isolation.

From a scientific standpoint, studies have shown that radiation therapy patients who have had the benefit of pet therapy tend to rate their overall health better than those who do not have the benefit of the treatment. Pet therapy that is provided during a chemotherapy session has been shown to reduce depression and improve blood oxygenation. It has even been shown to reduce patient fatigue.

Animals and Emotional Well-Being

A clinical study actually found that for patients going through radiation therapy or chemotherapy for cancer, animal therapy provided significant emotional benefits, even as their physical health was declining. The study included 42 adults with aggressive head and neck cancers who were undergoing intensive radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

The patients all experienced significant physical decline over the course of the study as well as loss in functioning. They were fatigued, frightened, and had other uncomfortable side effects. Assessment after visits with therapy dogs showed that these patients experienced increases in emotional and social wellness, when the opposite would have been expected based on their physical decline. The positive effects of being around the dogs lasted after they were gone.

Stress Relief with Animals

Chronic stress is one of the most debilitating aspects of a mesothelioma diagnosis, yet it is often one of the areas that is most frequently overlooked. In the quest to fight the cancer, people’s feelings are often the very last to be paid attention to, and as a result the anxiety can become overwhelming. This type of stress can manifest itself physically in insomnia and other related conditions. It can also result in clinical depression.

Having pets has been proven to decrease stress, but it’s not just pet owners who see the benefits. Any positive interaction between a human and an animal has the potential to reduce stress and even lower blood pressure in the person. This can be a great benefit for mesothelioma and other cancer patients experiencing significant stress because of their illness.

Improved Social Interactions

Among the benefits that pet therapy has been shown to offer to mesothelioma patients is an increased level of interaction between the patient and their caregiver staff. When an animal is present it seems to break down barriers and improve the ability to communicate, as well as for the staff to empathize with the patient. Having animals present in hospice settings has been shown to have a positive impact on the staff as well as the patient population, and increases verbalization and morale. Animals have been proven to facilitate better social interactions between people.

Animals and Surgery

Having a pet therapy representative present prior to a major surgery or procedure has also been shown to reduce blood pressure and anxiety in the patient, thus producing better outcomes. Canine visitation therapy has even been shown to have a beneficial impact on pain management, something which is particularly important for mesothelioma patients, who often have to deal with extensive discomfort caused by their tumors as well as by their treatment. One study actually found that patients who had animal visits required less pain medication after surgery than those who did not.

Animals and Overall Well-Being in Patients and Others

According to Dr. Edward Creagan, an oncologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, “A pet is a medication without side effects that has so many benefits. I can’t always explain it myself, but for years now I’ve seen how instances of having a pet is like an effective drug. It really does help people.” Visiting pets that are brought into hospital or clinical settings have been shown to enhance the will to live, improve patients’ moods, lower stress, and decrease the need for pain medications.

Perhaps just as important, pet visitation programs benefit not only the patient and the staff, but also the patient’s family. They provide something to talk about when the illness itself is too difficult to discuss, or when people start to feel that the only thing that their family can talk about is their cancer.

If you are currently battling mesothelioma, or you have a family member who is, you may be experiencing fear, anxiety, stress, and a lot of physical discomfort. While there are medical treatments to help you feel better, a visit from a therapy animal may prove just as beneficial, if not more so. Check with your medical center, your doctors, or local organizations to find out if you can have a visit from a therapy dog or cat. The visit will lighten your load, relieve your stress, and may even reduce your physical pain and discomfort.

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