Mesothelioma: What Is It? How Do You Care for a Senior Who Has It?
Caring for a friend or family member with malignant mesothelioma can seem like an overwhelming task at times, but it also can be a richly rewarding experience.
Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer most often caused by a long-before occupational exposure to asbestos. Although it starts with the patient, it will soon figuratively engulf the entire family.
Understanding the disease itself is a good first step for everyone.
A diagnosis of mesothelioma can be devastating. Although there is no definitive cure, recent therapeutic advancements have allowed specialists to take a curative approach to treatment.
A select group of mesothelioma patients are far exceeding the typical prognosis of 6-18 months. Survivors who reach a specialty center for the latest multidisciplinary care are living two, three and five years beyond their prognosis. A diagnosis is no longer met with the gloom-and-doom approach it was a decade ago.
How Does Mesothelioma Start?
Early symptoms likely will begin with a shortness of breath, a persistent cough and a tightening of the chest.
Mesothelioma starts in the thin lining around the lungs or abdomen — stemming from the inhalation or ingestion of asbestos fibers — and can spread throughout the chest or abdominal cavity.
Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation can be treatment options for mesothelioma.
Depending upon the effectiveness of therapy — or how early it was diagnosed — the cancer may progress quickly, leaving a patient in need of considerable help with even the simplest of everyday duties.
Caring for the Patient
The medical staff will determine the treatment regimen, but the primary caregiver will determine just how the patient lives. The duties will grow as the disease progresses.
Some tips for the caregiver include:
• Monitoring Health. The caregiver often becomes the eyes and ears that can help the medical team taking care of a patient. Details that are tough for the patient to remember should be noted by the caregiver. A caregiver also can manage medications at home and report any changing health issues.
• Providing Emotional Support. A cancer patient needs companionship and emotional support. They can’t do it alone. A mesothelioma patient will have good days and bad days, ups and down. They often just need someone to listen and be a steadying force.
• Making Decisions. Mesothelioma patients often need help sorting out complex health insurance and treatment options. There also can be financial decisions and legal issues to consider. End-of-life care also should be discussed early.
• Explore complementary and alternative therapies. Look outside mainstream medicine for help to accompany traditional medicine. Therapies that have helped others include mind-body therapies such as yoga; homeopathy remedies with herbs and anti-oxidants, and energy therapies that incorporate music.
• Join a support group. With a rare cancer such as mesothelioma, it’s hard to find others who truly understand what patients and caregivers face. It’s less isolating and always comforting to talk with others caring for someone with the same disease.
• Seek professional caregiving guidance. Nursing experience would be wonderful for any caregiver, but it’s not realistic. The caregiver is often a wife, husband, daughter or son with no medical training. They should seek out advice for things such as managing pain, managing symptoms, medical safety and practical aspects of caregiving.
Improving the quality of life for a mesothelioma patient is an admirable goal. It also is attainable for everyone.
Tim Povtak is a content writer for The Mesothelioma Center and Asbestos.com, an informational source for mesothelioma patients and families.