Support for the Patient

How to cope with the stress of a mesothelioma diagnosis

A person with mesothelioma is confronted not just with physical challenges, but also with tremendous emotional difficulties as well.  At times, the stress and anxiety can seem as crushing as the disease itself.  Many people try to cope with the diagnosis at first by keeping their feelings to themselves.  Though this approach is not uncommon, it’s not very useful.  Negative emotions that are bottled inside can easily lead to a deep seated depression or even further physical problems.

Help is available, and you are only the stronger for accepting it.  Most mesothelioma doctors encourage their patients to seek out professional help for sorting through their emotions.  Even though family members and friends may offer their support, there are probably issues you’d rather not share with your family.  It is sometimes easier to speak with a psychologist, counselor, or clergy person who has experience with helping people in your situation.  Another benefit to speaking with a professional is the knowledge that your feelings and concerns will not be passed on to others.  Some patients benefit from the brief use of anti-depressant drugs.  This is all very common.  Indeed, many insurance policies cover such visits and medications. 

Many people find it helpful to combine their counseling sessions with therapies like meditation, yoga or massage.  There is no set formula.  Patients may need to try several techniques before finding the assistance that works for them.

Psychologists

Your physician or oncologist can probably recommend a good licensed psychologist in your area.  Many of these compassionate professionals are specialized in helping people with terminal cancer to accept and confront the difficult challenges ahead.  They’ve worked with people in your situation before and know the issues you are facing. 

Psychiatrists

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in helping people faced with personal tragedies or trauma.  A psychiatrist is able to prescribe medications for stress, anxiety and depression.  Sometimes a psychologist or clinical social worker will refer a patient to a psychiatrist for the purpose of obtaining helpful medications.  Don’t worry if it turns out that you need such medications; many mesothelioma patients do.  There is little in life more troubling than finding out you have a terminal illness.  Drugs may help to control your emotions and prevent a severe bout of depression.  Just make sure that you let your psychiatrist know about all the medications you are taking for other conditions.  It’s important that your doctor find a medication that works well with the other drugs in your system. 

Social Workers

Your hospital likely has on staff special oncology social workers who can help you find ways to alleviate stress and anxiety.  Clinical social workers may provide counseling.  Other social workers may help by establishing a schedule for assisted care in your home or by arranging other useful social services. 

Clergy

Many patients facing terminal cancer turn for strength to God.  It is no surprise that mesothelioma victims find solace in their faith or personal beliefs.  For some, faith and spirituality provide a sense of peace and personal wellness that no other treatment affords.  If you find comfort in religion, it is likely that you would benefit by contacting a clergy person about your diagnosis.  For those troubled by the notion of “why me?” a pastor, priest, rabbi or other clergy person can help.  The same is true for questions surrounding the end-of-life. 

Alternative Therapies

For mesothelioma patients who are uninterested in counseling, but nevertheless could use some help in managing their anxiety, several alternative therapies and stress reduction techniques are available.  Many cancer patients combine these techniques with counseling to receive the maximum benefit from both.  Ask your doctor about such methods, including meditation, yoga, massage, acupuncture and hypnosis. 

  • Meditation: Meditation has long been used to help all sorts of people who would benefit from relaxation and stress reduction.  Many mesothelioma patients report that the therapy leaves them with a sense of serenity.  With a little practice, you can practice meditation on your own whenever you need it to calm your nerves and achieve a sense of balance.
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  • Yoga: Yoga is another therapy that may be beneficial for patients who are physically able. The practice of yoga began in India, as a spiritual exercise more than a physical one.  Here in the U.S., yoga has been long recognized for its psychologically calming aspects. Even simple techniques can improve your state of mind and can be done easily from home.
  • Massage: It is no secret that massage is a wonderful stress reliever.  Massage promotes blood flow and aids in relieving muscle tension.  It stimulates the nervous system, and is often used to relieve chronic pain.  Unfortunately, it is unlikely that massage will be covered by insurance unless prescribed by your physician and performed by a licensed therapist.  In many locations, however, affordable massage therapy can be found at schools in which massage therapists are trained.
  • Acupuncture: Acupuncture has been used for centuries to alleviate anxiety, stress and depression.  The practice may also generate a sense of self-confidence and well-being.  The therapy is performed by using very slender needles at specific pressure points around the body.  Many insurance companies provide coverage for acupuncture.
  • Hypnosis: Some mesothelioma patients benefit from the practice of hypnotherapy.  The therapy has become a familiar one to help people stop smoking.  It also can be used effectively to alleviate the symptoms of stress.  Ask your physician if you think hypnotherapy might work for you.

Resources

  • American Cancer Society: The American Cancer Society site provides links to support groups in many locations around the country.
  • American Lung Association: Resources and support for how to cope with lung disease.
  • Anderson Network: The Anderson Network is a large cancer support group of current and former patients.  The patient and caregiver support line can be reached at 1-800-345-6324.
  • Cancer Hope Network: Cancer Hope Network is a non-profit organization that gives confidential support to cancer patients and their family members.  The trained volunteers have all lived through a similar cancer experience.  The toll free phone number is 877-HOPENET.
  • Centerwatch/Clinical Trials Listing Service: Information and resources on clinical trials underway in the U.S.
  • Clinical Trials: Government site with current information about clinical trials.
  • Mayo Clinic: Extensive information about many diseases from the Mayo Clinic.
  • Medscape: Site offers very current medical news.
  • National Cancer Institute: The National Cancer Institute‚Äôs site offers up-to-date information on many types of cancer, including mesothelioma, information on clinical trials, and resources for cancer patients and their families.
  • Oncolink: Site maintained by the Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania with information on many types of cancer.

Please keep in mind that we are not medical experts.  By listing these sites, we do not intend to provide medical advice or to recommend any of the doctors, hospitals, or sites named here. We just want to offer you additional resources for learning more about mesothelioma and lung cancer.

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