Learning you have mesothelioma is unquestionably a negative experience. In fact, many patients and survivors of the disease consider that doctor visit or phone call to be the worst moment of their lives.
The rough times may not end there, either.
Mesothelioma treatment is a grueling process, one that likely involves chemotherapy and all the uncomfortable side effects that come with exposing your body to cell-killing drugs. Even if you have surgery with no chemotherapy, you’ll likely experience a difficult recovery and require rehabilitation. Physical discomfort is ramped up to the maximum during your fight against mesothelioma.
Not only does mesothelioma cause the deterioration of your physical health, but it can also cause mental health issues. Patients regularly report feeling depressed or anxious about their diagnosis and prognosis, not to mention their rising debt and increased financial stress. Changes to your body may impact your self-esteem. Consistent nausea or fatigue may cause mood swings.
According to a study published in Psycho-Oncology, up to 24% of cancer patients have symptoms of depression. In another study, cited by the American Medical Association’s Journal of Ethics, the risk of a psychological disorder is “nearly six times higher” for adults with cancer versus those without it. Mental struggles are just as much a part of mesothelioma treatment as physical ones are.
Depression is part of life with mesothelioma, too. Researchers at the University of Florida analyzed more than 123,000 mesothelioma cases documented between 2001 and 2013. They discovered that this mental illness increased among mesothelioma patients by around 9% since the start of the 21st century.
Around 20% of Caucasian mesothelioma patients suffered from depression and 22% of women with the cancer experienced depression. In short, mental struggles are just as much a part of mesothelioma treatment as physical ones are.
Unlike the physical side, though, you can address the mental health issues associated with this disease. The medical experts at Mesothelioma Guide have six tips to help you or someone you know battle mesothelioma from a psychological perspective. These suggestions also apply to a mesothelioma patient’s caregivers or loved ones, as they too suffer from this disease.
Mental health professionals are a valuable resource for mesothelioma patients. They will help you uncover the roots of your depression or anxiety and discuss the emotions behind those disturbances. They may also suggest you take medication to treat your mental health disorder, so long as the drugs do not conflict with your mesothelioma treatment.
Just having a medical expert to speak with regularly — whether one time or multiple times during the week — can soothe some of your distress.
Build a Support Network
Relying on just a therapist isn’t enough for most mesothelioma patients. Open up to others about your journey, including some of the psychological issues you’re going through. According to the American Cancer Society, “Patients with more social support tend to feel less anxious and depressed and report a better quality of life.”
You could turn to a cancer support group — or one dedicated just to mesothelioma victims. Another option is leaning on friends and family members to shed some baggage and stress.
Point being: Don’t put on a “happy face,” as the American Cancer Society calls it, just to uphold a strong front. No one will know what you’re going through if you don’t open up about it. The first step in addressing a mental health disorder is not hiding it from yourself or other people.
A common saying among mental health experts is, “It’s OK to not be OK.” And it’s absolutely true for mesothelioma patients.
Your physical and mental health impact one another, and high school science class is the connecting bridge. Certain chemicals in the body — called endorphins — improve your mood and temporarily reduce your perception of pain.
Exercise is one method of producing and releasing this chemical, which interacts with specific brain receptors to create the positive feelings. Regular exercise also improves your physical health during treatment — muscle and cardiovascular workouts are a way to rebuild your body’s strength following surgery or chemotherapy — and can increase your self-esteem. Plus, regular exposure to sunlight will improve your mood.
Eat a Healthy Diet
What you ingest into your body also affects your mental health. There are some foods known to hurt your mental health — and some that improve it. Whichever mesothelioma treatment you’re using may dictate what you can eat and drink, because some chemotherapy patients have difficulty swallowing and digesting certain foods.
According to an article on Healthline, the following foods reduce anxiety and depression:
- Whole grains
- Healthy fats and proteins (such as raw nuts, olive oil, non-fried chicken and fish)
The article suggests avoiding red meat, sugar, fried and greasy foods, dairy and grains.
“Changing your nutrition can be a great addition to traditional therapy, like cognitive behavioral therapy and medication,” says Anika Knüppel, a researcher at the University College London, “(but it) comes at a much smaller cost and can be a great way to self-care.”
Don’t revolve your days around just treatment. Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer, and many patients with too much time to think will let their minds wander down a grim road.
Spend time with your friends and family — parents, siblings, children and grandchildren, if you have them — and do the activities you enjoy. Play golf if you have the energy to do so. If not, just going to your favorite restaurant could brighten your day — and beyond. Travel to that one city or country you’ve always dreamt of seeing. Start checking off the items on your bucket list.
No matter what, life doesn’t last forever. So enjoy it to the fullest.
Mesothelioma treatment can be expensive, one of the many reasons victims stress after learning of their diagnosis.
“How will I pay for medical bills?” “What will happen to my family when I can no longer work?” “How will we be able to afford our children’s college tuition?” “Will I or my spouse ever be able to retire?” “Who will provide for our family if I pass away?”
Those are just some of the common questions that mesothelioma patients face, and these concerns are basic quality-of-life ones. Asking yourself about these matters causes anxiety and depression. They don’t even factor in some of the mental health elements discussed above, such as traveling or remaining active. If you expect to struggle in paying your medical bills, then how will you pay for that long-desired trip to Europe?
Mesothelioma victims can take action. There are responsible parties for the high number of people who have this disease. The corporations who exposed millions — if not billions — of Americans to asbestos are ethically and legally at fault. They should pay for their wrongdoing, and the victims of their deeds should receive mesothelioma compensation to reduce their financial burden.
Our patient advocate, Karen Ritter, is a registered nurse with medical and legal connections for victims such as yourself. She can answer any questions you may have regarding mesothelioma treatment options, mental health tips or legal avenues. Additionally, she could be another member of your support network, just another ear to listen to you or shoulder for you to lean on. Email her at email@example.com or contact her through her bio page on our website.
Rather than going through your mesothelioma treatment alone — both emotionally and financially — contact us at Mesothelioma Guide. We’d love to help in any way possible.
- Prevalence of depression in cancer patients: a meta-analysis of diagnostic interviews and self-report instruments. Psycho-Oncology via the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4282549/. Accessed: 06/26/19.
- Prioritizing Mental Health Research in Cancer Patients and Survivors. American Medical Association’s Journal of Ethics. Retrieved from: https://journalofethics.ama-assn.org/article/prioritizing-mental-health-research-cancer-patients-and-survivors/2017-05. Accessed: 06/26/19.
- These Women Treated Their Anxiety and Depression with Food. Here’s What They Ate. Healthline. Retrieved from: https://www.healthline.com/health/best-diets-for-mental-health. Accessed: 06/26/19.
- Anxiety, Fear, and Depression. American Cancer Society. Retrieved from: https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/emotional-side-effects/anxiety-fear-depression.html. Accessed: 06/26/19.
- Patterns of Postdiagnosis Depression Among Late-Stage Cancer Patients: Do Racial/Ethnic and Sex Disparities Exist?. American Journal of Clinical Oncology via Ovid. Retrieved from: https://insights.ovid.com/crossref?an=00000421-900000000-98798. Accessed: 07/18/19.
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