Living with mesothelioma presents emotional, physical and practical challenges for you, your family and your caregivers. The challenges are not insurmountable, however. There are many things you can do and resources available to help you during this difficult time, and make your life more comfortable and less restrictive. These are some of the challenges you may face, along with advice and information on resources that can help you live with mesothelioma.
Emotional Effects of Mesothelioma
A diagnosis as drastic as mesothelioma takes a toll on you (and your loved ones) physically, emotionally and mentally. Everyone reacts differently, but common reactions include anxiety, depression, exhaustion and anger. Finding ways to deal with these emotions can not only help you feel better about yourself, it may actually improve your prognosis and the impact of the treatments recommended by your doctors.
When you’re first diagnosed with mesothelioma, you may feel alone and isolated. If you choose to share your diagnosis outside your immediate family, you may find that people treat you differently. Some may seem to avoid you because they don’t know what to say or do. You can’t change the way others react and feel, but you can do other things to reduce the feelings of isolation and loneliness.
- Join a support group for patients. Talking with others who are undergoing the same fears and experiences can help you deal with your own feelings, and make you feel less alone. While many people think of social support groups as places where people focus on negatives, the reality is that your best sources of advice, information and encouragement are people and who are dealing with or who have dealt with a mesothelioma diagnosis.
- Encourage your mesothelioma caregivers and family members to become involved with a caregivers support group, too. The practical advice, information, and support they’ll find there will make both your life and theirs easier.
In addition to the anxiety and fear you feel about having mesothelioma, you may find yourself facing social anxiety and worries. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy take a toll on your physical health and your appearance. You may worry how people will perceive you and react to you if you lose your hair, or if your illness affects your physical appearance.
- When you feel up to it, do what it takes to make yourself feel more attractive. Check around your community. You may find a spa or salon that offers special makeup consultations for people undergoing chemotherapy, or hair stylists who offer special services for people going through cancer treatment. A little pampering can pick up your spirits and help you feel better.
- Don’t feel like you have to force yourself to interact with others or put yourself into a situation that causes you anxiety. Remember that others are there to support you. Let family members and friends take care of errands and other routine outings if you’re not feeling up to going out or being in public.
Your body is dealing with a lot of physical and emotional stress, which can actually hamper your treatment and leave you feeling overwhelmed and even more ill. More and more cancer treatment specialists recognize that mind-body treatments can help relieve the stress, and may have other beneficial effects on your treatment.
- Check with your doctor or treatment team to see if they recommend alternative medical and therapeutic therapies, such as tai chi, quigong, yoga or meditation. If you enjoy music, art or other creative outlets, consider joining an art therapy, music therapy or other mindfulness practice to help you cope with your diagnosis.
Practical Strategies for Dealing with a Mesothelioma Diagnosis
Once you’ve been diagnosed with mesothelioma, your life and your schedule will often be dictated by medical appointments, treatment dates, and how you feel at any given moment. Some of these strategies can help you maintain some control over what’s happening in your life.
Your friends and family may offer to help “in any way I can.” Take them at their word. One especially useful strategy is to set up an online calendar listing appointments and tasks they can do for you. Share a link to the calendar with people who offer to support you and encourage them to “sign up” if they can drive you to an appointment on Tuesday or make dinner for the family on Friday.
A Healthy Diet
It can be especially difficult to maintain a healthy diet when your treatments leave you feeling nauseous and the last thing you feel like doing is eating. Consult with a dietician or nutritionist to come up with menus and recipes that are both healthy and appealing. The right diet – along with supplements recommended by your treatment team – can ensure that you get the nutrition you need to maintain your strength during your mesothelioma treatment.
Staying as physically active as possible is another way to help boost your mood and improve your mesothelioma prognosis. Look into programs that offer light physical exercise that can help maintain your bone and muscle strength before and after mesothelioma treatment.
Finally, keep the lines of communication open – with your spouse and family, with your caregivers, and with your doctors. The more they know about how you are feeling, both physically and emotionally, the more they’ll be able to help you stay strong and motivated while living with mesothelioma.