By Alex Strauss
Three out of four families will have a family member diagnosed with cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. One of the most important determinants of how well a patient with mesothelioma or another type of cancer can weather the stress of diagnosis and treatment is their level of support, both emotional and practical. While family members may wonder what, if anything, they can do for a loved one facing a devastating diagnosis like mesothelioma, the answer is – more than they think.
A mesothelioma diagnosis is about more than just the physical challenges. People facing cancer often must cope quickly with a range of both treatment-related and daily life considerations, all while potentially feeling less than their best. In these situations, family members can be a lifeline of support and assistance.
1 – Help Find the Best Treatment
Cancer treatments are constantly changing and evolving and mesothelioma care is no exception. What works for one patient may not be a good fit for another. Family members can help their loved one take control (in a situation that can often feel out of the control) by helping them get a second opinion and by researching treatment options.
Research suggests that, especially in rare cancers like mesothelioma, patients who work with a doctor and hospital experienced in their specific type of cancer may have better outcomes than those who work with a generalist. Cancer-specific websites such as SurvivingMesothelioma.com can help patients and families connect with the closest specialist and get a second opinion. This can be a valuable way to help define treatment options, regardless of which doctor the patient ultimately chooses to work with.
Reputable websites like SurvivingMesothelioma.com are also a good place for family members to find the most up-to-date research on new drugs, new therapies, and alternative treatment approaches. Patients with rare cancers like malignant mesothelioma may also want to consider a clinical trial as a way to gain access to cutting-edge therapies. Family members can find lists of open trials to discuss with the patient’s doctor at ClinicalTrials.gov.
2 – Handle Practical Details
When going through cancer treatment, the last thing many patients have is the time or energy to deal with the practicalities of daily life such as cooking, cleaning, and paying bills. Dividing up these kinds of daily tasks among willing family members (with the patient’s permission) can free up the patient to concentrate on treatment, resting, and healing.
Cancer patients often receive gifts, phone calls and food donations from friends and neighbors who want to help. Having a family member to field and respond to these outpourings can help the patient feel supported without having to shoulder the responsibility of responding to each gift or inquiry personally. Consider assigning a family “point person” to give updates on the patient’s status and another to write thank-you notes or return phone calls.
Families can also be an invaluable help with treatment-related tasks such as communicating with the hospital financial counselor or the insurance company, arranging in-home assistance, or dealing with legal issues. Family members can play an even more direct role in treatment by accompanying a mesothelioma patient to their doctor’s appointments, taking notes while there, and keeping good records of treatments and tests.
3 – Provide Emotional Support
One thing that every cancer patient needs, regardless of the type or stage of their cancer, is plenty of emotional support. Family members can help a loved one with mesothelioma simply by listening and being fully present with them whenever they can. Cancer diagnosis and treatment can be an emotional rollercoaster. Having a non-judgmental and supportive loved one to lean on during this time can not only make the process less stressful but may even help ease physical pain and optimize treatment outcomes.
It is not unusual for family members to feel awkward talking about cancer with their loved one. But emotional support does not have to mean discussing the patient’s situation, unless he or she wants to. Cancer treatment can be all-consuming and many patients enjoy having a respite from thinking about or talking about their mesothelioma. Watching funny movies, listening to music, taking a walk, playing a game or even just sitting together or reading are all simple ways that family members can provide critical support during a difficult time.
Hospital-based support groups and other cancer survivors are also excellent sources of emotional support for a loved one battling mesothelioma. A patient’s family can ensure that he or she has people to lean on even when they are not there by researching and connecting them with support groups or survivors in their local area.
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