Receiving a diagnosis of mesothelioma is undoubtedly devastating news. It is an aggressive and rare cancer that is almost always caused by previous asbestos exposure. The average life expectancy after diagnosis is 12-21 months.
Coping with this diagnosis is extremely challenging, both emotionally and practically. Your world is turned upside down as you grapple with the prognosis, treatment options, financial implications, and impact on your family. It is normal to experience shock, anger, sadness and fear. However, there are ways to help you cope during this difficult time.
Here are seven tips to support you following a mesothelioma diagnosis.
1. Get Organized
A mesothelioma diagnosis means you’ll likely be dealing with a lot of doctor appointments, tests, paperwork, and treatment details. Getting organized can help reduce stress and enable you to focus your energy on getting well. Make a file to keep track of all your medical records, test results, and insurance or payment information in one place.
Given that mesothelioma is often caused by asbestos exposure, many patients may be eligible to receive compensation. It’s beneficial to gather any documentation related to your potential asbestos exposure, and consider consulting an attorney who specializes in asbestos-related cases. To ensure nothing gets missed, ask a responsible family member or close friend if they can serve as your notetaker at appointments. Your attorney can help you determine whether or not you are eligible for compensation from asbestos trust funds set up by companies that used to manufacture or include asbestos in their products. This compensation can help cover medical bills and other expenses.
It’s also smart to get your legal and financial affairs in order. Update your will, power of attorney, and any other legal documents. Review your health and life insurance policies. Make a financial plan for the future care of your family. Having plans in place to handle your affairs will give you peace of mind that your loved ones will be taken care of no matter what happens.
2. Seek Support
Receiving a diagnosis of mesothelioma can make you feel frightened and alone. It is crucial that you seek out support so you don’t have to go through this by yourself.
Reach out to your doctor and ask about any local cancer support groups or online communities you can join to connect with others who are going through similar experiences. Building a network of people who truly understand what you are going through can provide invaluable support. Being able to share your honest feelings with people in the same situation can help you feel less isolated. It also encourages you to remain hopeful when you see how others are coping.
In addition to support groups, don’t underestimate the importance of support from family and close friends. Let your loved ones know how they can best support you, whether it’s helping you with meals or going with you to appointments.
2. Learn About Treatment Options
One of the most important things you can do after being diagnosed with mesothelioma is to spend time learning about your treatment options. Do your research and arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible. Ask your medical team direct questions so you fully understand what the standard treatment protocols are, including details about surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and clinical trials.
The more you educate yourself about the available treatments, the better equipped you’ll be to make the most informed decisions about your care. Also, don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself if a recommended treatment doesn’t seem like the best option for your circumstances.
4. Plan for Appointments
Once you start treatment, medical appointments will likely become a regular part of your routine. Planning and staying organized can help reduce anxiety and frustration. Keep a calendar or planner with all your upcoming appointment dates and times in one place.
Ask your doctor’s office if you can get bloodwork or any preparatory testing done a few days before major appointments. This allows results to be ready and can reduce time spent waiting around the day of your visit. Having a family member or friend come with you to take notes also helps ensure you don’t miss or forget any important information discussed.
5. Consider Your Emotions
It’s normal to experience a rollercoaster of difficult emotions after being diagnosed with mesothelioma, including fear, anger, grief, sadness, confusion, and more. Don’t ignore or bottle up what you’re feeling. Be honest with yourself and your loved ones about what you are going through emotionally. Talking through your feelings and releasing them can help prevent depression and isolation.
Consider meeting with a counselor or therapist who specializes in helping those with serious diagnoses process their emotions. Don’t underestimate the power of mind-body practices like meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, or tai chi to help calm your mind. Maintaining a journal to express your emotions through writing can also be very cathartic. Finding healthy ways to acknowledge and release your feelings will help you cope.
6. Maintain Relationships
Your relationships with family and friends are so important for your emotional well-being when facing mesothelioma. Make spending time with your loved ones a priority whenever you feel up to it. If you don’t have the energy for lengthy visits, even short phone calls, texts, or video chats can make a difference.
Your loved ones will want to be there for you during this difficult time. Let them know how they can help with rides to appointments, meals, childcare, or caregiving tasks.
7. Find Meaning
Receiving a serious diagnosis like mesothelioma may lead you to question your purpose in life. Identify the people, activities, passions, and beliefs that bring you the most joy and meaning. This could include spending time with family, connecting with friends, enjoying hobbies, being in nature, or exploring spirituality. Make time for these sources of meaning, especially on the hardest days.
Staying focused on the things that matter most can help you get through challenging treatments and emotional lows.
Coping with a diagnosis of mesothelioma is extremely difficult. Make sure to implement these strategies to ease the burden. This journey is not one you have to walk alone; connect with resources and loved ones who can support you along the way. Although mesothelioma presents many challenges, bringing purpose to each day will help you move forward with hope.