Part of palliative care for mesothelioma involves addressing the plethora of emotional reactions which occur when being diagnosed with a terminal disease. Not only are mesothelioma patients affected emotionally by the disease, but their families and loved ones also must find ways of coping with the disease and its prognosis. The purpose of palliative care counseling is to treat the psychological disorders that often accompany a disease with a poor prognosis and identify the emotional and mental sources of distress. Some patients will get anxious or depressed while family members feel intense feelings of grief. These are all very difficult emotions to live with for many months and counseling can help people better cope.1
Patients diagnosed with mesothelioma should openly discuss their feelings with their doctors, even if they think that their emotions are normal or unimportant. A doctor may be able to provide help for dealing with the emotions related to cancer – such as recommending counselors or prescribing medications – but only if the patient is open about his or her feelings.
When coping with a terminal disease like cancer, many people (including patients and their loved ones) go through what is known as the stages of grief. These stages include:2
These stages can occur in any order and can last for completely different periods of time. The process of grieving is unique to each person. For example, a mesothelioma patient may be in denial for just a day before he starts to bargain (I promise that I will become a better person if I beat this!) for weeks and then becomes angry and so forth. There is no right way to cope with mesothelioma and people confronted with the disease should be aware that a wide range of emotions is completely normal.
There are now numerous cancer support groups and other counseling resources available for patients and their families. Following are some of the options.
One-on-one sessions with a counselor can help patients or their loved ones come to terms with the many emotions associated with mesothelioma. Often, hospitals have their own counselors who can provide support and have extensive experience dealing with people going through the grieving process. There are also many private psychologists, psychiatrists and therapists who have experience working with cancer patients or addressing loss. Your doctor should be able to recommend an experienced counselor suitable for your needs.
Private counseling does not always have to come from a doctor. Patients and their loved ones can take advantage of numerous community resources, such as counseling from religious leaders. Since people coping with mesothelioma often have concerns about their faith and religion, these leaders can be very helpful in coming to terms with the illness.
Private counselors often recommend that family members also sit down together for group counseling. This can help patients and their loved ones open up a line of dialogue about feelings about mesothelioma which they may be having difficulty expressing. The main goal of family counseling for mesothelioma is to help strengthen the bond between the family members during the trying period.
There are hundreds of cancer counseling groups located throughout the United States and many abroad as well. These group therapy sessions vary but are typically informal and allow a free platform for patients or loved ones to discuss their emotions, frustrations and concerns. The support groups are typically limited to either patients or loved ones dealing with the same issues, such as cancer or another terminal illness. It can be very comforting to be amongst others who are dealing with the same issues as you.3
The internet has made it possible for mesothelioma patients and their loved ones to find support – regardless of where they live or their financial status. There are numerous online support groups for cancer patients where members can discuss their emotions in an open setting. Other online support for mesothelioma can come through reading personal blogs or forums about coping with mesothelioma. The great thing about the internet is that it gives you access to support at any time of the day and you don’t have to worry about paying a bill for counseling services. A few of the top cancer support groups online include:
- Association of Cancer Online Resources at www.acor.org
- Cancer Care at www.cancercare.org
- Gilda’s Club at www.gildasclub.org
- I Can Cope at www.cancer.org
- The Wellness Community at www.thewellnesscommunity.org
Even if you have never had to ask for help in the past, there is no reason to go through mesothelioma alone. Counseling can give you the emotional and mental tools you need to cope with a devastating disease. The same thing is true for family or friends who grieve at seeing you suffer and worry about the ultimate prognosis. There are not “cures” for grief, but at some point we all go through the 5 stages. Taking the journey with the help of professional counselors can smooth a very rugged path in many ways.
1 Abrahm, J. L. Palliative care for the patient with mesothelioma. (Summer 2009) Sem Thorac Cardiovasc Sur, v21:2, 164-71.
2 Kubler-Ross, E. and Kessler, D. On Grief and Grieving (2005) New York: Scribner – Simon & Schuster, pp. 7-24.
3 Diver, N., (July 2005) A Mesothelioma support group model support builds hope, faith and strength. Lung Cancer. V49, p. S334.