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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.

Pet 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. 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.

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. Animal companionship and contact has been shown to have a profound healing effect that can reverse the suffering that stress from physical illness causes. Patients often find that they are able to talk to a dog or cat, or reach to them for comfort, in a way that they do not feel able to show to their family and friends. Far too often people try to be strong for their family and put up a good fight. For this type of patient in particular, having a warm, soft, nonjudgmental animal there to talk to, pet, cuddle with and just sit with can often provide tremendous relief.

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. 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.

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.

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.

If you have mesothelioma or are caring for a loved one who has been diagnosed with the disease, check to see whether your hospital offers a pet therapy program. The benefits may surprise you.

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