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Pet Therapy for Mesothelioma Patients

People diagnosed with mesothelioma often spend significant time traveling for treatment and care. With various surgeries and therapies designed to help them fight their cancer, it may seem like there is little time left for activities they enjoy. Pet-assisted therapy can accomplish both physical and mental healing for cancer patients, while providing tremendous enjoyment.

What is Pet Therapy?

Pet therapy or animal therapy encompasses several different types of animal-assisted activities. It may be simple pet visitation. Pet therapy can also include having an animal companion during treatments or going through pet-facilitated therapy. The idea behind pet therapy is that the companionship of an animal provides a great deal of comfort. Animals can also help the feelings a mesothelioma patients has of being alone, anxious, or depressed.

Pet therapy has been studied extensively. Research proves its positive effect on the emotional well-being of mesothelioma patients. Animal therapy offers emotional and tactile connection. Patients who have used pet therapy report reductions in stress, grief, loneliness and isolation.

Studies show radiation therapy patients who have participated in pet therapy rate their overall health higher than those who did not participate. Pet therapy during chemotherapy reduces depression and improves blood oxygenation. It has even been shown to reduce patient fatigue.

Animals and Emotional Well-Being

A clinical study found that patients going through radiation therapy or chemotherapy, received significant emotional benefits from animal therapy, even as their physical health declined. The study included 42 adults with aggressive head and neck cancers who received intensive radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

The patients experienced significant physical decline over the course of the study, as well as loss in functioning. Patients were fatigued, frightened, and experienced other uncomfortable side effects. Patients were assessed after visiting therapy dogs. These assessments showed increases in emotional and social wellness when the opposite was expected based on their physical decline. The positive effects of the dogs lasted long after they were gone.

Stress Relief with Animals

Chronic stress is one of the most debilitating aspects of a mesothelioma diagnosis. However, it is often overlooked. In the quest to fight a patient’s physical cancer, attending to emotions is rarely made a priority. As a result, anxiety can become overwhelming. 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, and it isn’t just pet owners who see the benefits. Any positive interaction between a human and an animal can reduce stress and lower blood pressure. This is an important benefit for mesothelioma and other cancer patients who often experience significant stress because of their illness.

Improved Social Interactions

One benefit of pet therapy for mesothelioma patients is increased interaction between the patient and their caregivers. The presence of an animal seems to break down barriers and improve communication. Animals also improve the staffs ability to empathize with the patient. Animal presence in hospice settings has a positive impact on the staff and patients, facilitating better social interactions, increasing verbalization, and improving morale.

Animals and Surgery

Animal presence prior to major surgery has been shown to reduce blood pressure and anxiety in the patient. In turn, this leads to better patient outcomes. Canine visitation therapy has even been shown to have a beneficial impact on pain management. One study found 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 having a pet is like an effective drug. It really does help people.” Visiting pets brought into hospital or clinical settings enhance the will to live, improve patient mood, lower stress, and decrease the need for pain medication.

Perhaps just as important, pet visitation programs also benefit the patient’s family. Animals provide something to talk about when the illness is too difficult to discuss. The presence of a pet also provides a topic of conversation beyond the patient’s cancer.

If you are battling mesothelioma, you may be experiencing fear, anxiety, stress, and physical discomfort. While there are medical treatments to help you feel better, a visit from a therapy animal may prove just as beneficial. Check with your medical center or local organizations to find out about visits from therapy animals. The visit will lighten your load, relieve your stress, and may even reduce physical pain and discomfort.

Page Edited by Dave Foster

Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available. Connect with Patient Advocate Dave Foster

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