There is no way to learn of a mesothelioma diagnosis without experiencing a wide swing of emotions. The patient, of course, will experience immediate and intense feelings, ranging from denial to anger, blame, fear and depression. For some patients, the stress and anxiety caused by the disease are as difficult as the physical symptoms. All of this is completely normal. Patients who acknowledge their difficult feelings and seek support for learning how to cope with them will fare the best. It’s important to prevent the onset of severe depression or even physical complications brought on by unresolved anxiety. Many patients benefit from speaking with a professional or from use of an anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication. Patients should speak with their doctors about their state of mind, as well as the state of their physical health.
People who are confronted with a diagnosis of mesothelioma often experience a series of common emotions. These include:
Shock, Denial, or Disbelief
It is not at all unusual for a newly diagnosed patient to feel as though he is “in a fog.” Some people are so shocked by the news that they repeatedly ask for the information to be repeated over and over. They may refuse to discuss the diagnosis or they may seem to be completely without emotion.
Other patients actually refuse to believe the doctor is speaking to them. Or they protest that the doctor is simply wrong. For some, talking about the diagnosis only makes it real. Although it is important not to push such patients initially, if the denial persists, family members may have to call in a professional to help.
Once people get over the shock of hearing that they have developed mesothelioma, a terminal cancer, they are often angry. They feel cheated out of future experiences for which they had hoped, worked and planned. Unfortunately, the anger is often directed at family and friends who are also grieving because of the diagnosis. Patients should try not to attack their loved ones unfairly and family and friends should try to remember that the mesothelioma patient may have nowhere else to direct the anger.
Some mesothelioma patients question what they’ve done to “deserve” their situation and become angry with God. They wonder how God could have allowed this to happen or try to understand why God is punishing them. Religious patients may even stop attending services or question their faith. In such circumstances, it may be useful to call in a clergy person to speak with and pray with the patient.
Some patients may direct the anger at themselves, wondering what they did to cause their disease. Mesothelioma patients are not to blame, however, since they did not know that the asbestos they worked around would kill them. Smoking doesn’t cause mesothelioma and neither does a poor diet or a lack of exercise. Mesothelioma patients should never blame themselves.
It is not surprising that mesothelioma patients often experience fear. Patients are afraid of the painful symptoms caused by the disease and they are apprehensive about the sometimes multiple surgical procedures that await them. Of course they are fearful of a disease for which the cure is not yet known. The future is uncertain and that is indeed scary. For many people, the best way to conquer fear is with information. By learning as much as you can about mesothelioma and what to expect, you will at least address our natural fear of the unknown.
Mesothelioma patients often report experiencing some sort of depression. It is critical, though, that the depression not be allowed to spiral out of control. Depression is a disease unto itself. Left untreated, depression can hinder a patient’s mesothelioma treatment and valuable time with family and friends. Sometimes, patients are able to work through their depression by speaking with psychologists or social workers. Other times, physicians are able to treat depression with medication. Under no circumstances should a mesothelioma patient refuse to admit depression or seek help for it. Help is readily available.