In honor of Mesothelioma Awareness Day 2022, learn what steps you can take after a mesothelioma diagnosis.
First things first, how does one get diagnosed with mesothelioma? This rare cancer caused by asbestos exposure accounts for about 3,000 cases annually in the United States. And while a person may think this number is low, it does not make it any less serious.
Mesothelioma cancer is formed when loose asbestos fibers are breathed in and become lodged in either the lungs or the abdomen. The fibers begin to disturb internal tissue, creating a breeding ground for the cancer.
Mesothelioma misdiagnosis is common as many of the symptoms of this illness relate to other more common and less severe diseases. While there is currently no cure for mesothelioma cancer, work is being done every day to find a cure. For now, early detection and medical intervention are going to offer the best chance for survival.
Detecting mesothelioma early is not easy due to the long latency period of asbestos. If exposed to asbestos, it can take as long as 20-50 years for the first symptoms of the cancer to arrive. This makes it one of the most challenging cancers to diagnose, and due to its rareness, many doctors have never diagnosed the disease. The beginning symptoms of mesothelioma are quite mild ranging from shortness of breath to chest pain. This makes it even more difficult and is the reason that most mesothelioma patients are not diagnosed until the later stages of the disease.
Key statistics report that the average age for a mesothelioma diagnosis is 72. The sooner the diagnosis, the better, as it can drastically improve a patient’s life expectancy. If a patient is diagnosed later, chances of long-term survival decrease since treatment options are limited and focus on only palliative (pain relieving) care.
Steps to Take After a Diagnosis
While the news of a mesothelioma diagnosis can come as a shock, the information could be key to you or your loved one’s survival. With the knowledge of what the illness is, a world of resources and treatments are now accessible, and treatment is proven to prolong survival and improve one’s overall quality of life.
Many doctors do not encounter mesothelioma in their day-to-day practice, so it is recommended to connect with a mesothelioma specialist after you or someone you know has been diagnosed. They will help confirm that a correct diagnosis has been given, and they will look through the patient’s medical history to begin a personalized treatment plan.
A specialist usually confirms the diagnosis through a biopsy. Keep the patient’s best interest in mind as you navigate this sensitive time and decide which medical plan to go with. These options include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and immunotherapy.
The FDA has approved three therapy plans for unresectable (not capable of being surgically removed) mesothelioma cancer. These therapies include chemotherapy drugs, Pemetrexed and Cisplatin, immunotherapy drugs like Keytruda, Opdivo and Yervoy, and a tumor treating field device called Optune Lua.
Establish A Support System
While this is a challenging time for all involved, it is important for the patient to build up their support system during this time of uncertainty. Patients should not be afraid to lean into their support systems – which could be family, friends, neighbors, and community members – as they navigate their new day-to-day needs. Oftentimes, patients may feel like they are a burden to others when they are first diagnosed with cancer. This is the furthest thing from the truth, and a support system’s role is to offer the patient this reassurance.
Underneath it all, a support system will remind the patient that they are still the same exact person, sibling, friend, son, or daughter that they have always been. A support group can help shift a patient’s focus away from their diagnosis and help place their energy towards different activities to ensure they keep living a fulfilling lifestyle, regardless of their health. Some common hobbies that can help a patient feel a bit more normal are card playing, reading, and watching TV or movies. There are many emotional benefits to having a hobby, including reducing stress, which could offer a positive benefit to one’s health. It is important for any cancer patient to not let their diagnosis define them or stop them from living their life!
If you are a friend, family member or caregiver, learn How to Support Someone Living with Mesothelioma.
Living an Actionable Life with Mesothelioma
While a diagnosis may come with shock and subsequently, a lifestyle change, many patients are still able to find some sense of normalcy. Patients are still able to laugh, sing, and enjoy the simple pleasures of life as long as they’re willing to make some health adjustments.
First, let’s focus on some of the ways that a patient can still lead an active life, even with a mesothelioma diagnosis. Some common activities patients can participate in:
- Tai Chi or Pilates
- Light Resistance Strength Training
With any terminal illness, it is important to keep in mind a patient’s comfort limits when it comes to any form of physical activity. Besides physical activities, some ways a patient can find mental clarity are through:
- Attending Cancer Support Meetings
- Going to Therapy
Research shows that staying active can offer both physical and mental benefits to a patient. Minor adjustments can offer clarity and allow the patient to find a purpose and remain engaged in their daily lives. In addition, reading a survivor’s message can provide a sense of optimism and hope.
Closing Thoughts and Additional Resources
It’s important to note that everyone handles their cancer diagnosis differently and they may make different choices than you would. That is okay. The most important thing is that you are supportive of their decisions and are there along the way.
There are many resoures available to both cancer patients and caregivers. If you are interested in joining a support group, please visit the Cancer Pathways Support Groups page. We have over 10 support groups to choose from that are all being implemented virtually, via Zoom. Cancer Pathways, formerly Gilda’s Club Seattle, is a nonprofit that provides social and emotional support to anyone impacted by cancer. Our mission is that no one faces cancer alone.
If you are looking for additional information about mesothelioma or Mesothelioma Awareness Day on September 26, please visit mesothelioma.com.