Beyond Oncology: Psychosocial and Spiritual Needs in Mesothelioma Care

Emotional and psychosocial support for mesothelioma patients

When physical mesothelioma symptoms arise, most patients aren’t shy about calling their oncologist for a consultation. But when emotional and psychosocial symptoms are added to the mix, very few patients feel confident asking for help.

According to a new study in the Journal of Integrative Medicine, 72 percent of advanced cancer patients felt that the medical system didn’t sufficiently meet their spiritual and psychosocial needs. Only 53 percent felt adequately supported within their respective religious communities.

What exactly were these needs that patients felt went unaddressed?

Inner peace needs were ranked among the most important by all of the participants. Most indicated some need to retreat to a peaceful place for reflection, as well as to “find meaning in their illness and suffering.”

Other highly ranked needs included:

  • To know that their life is valuable
  • To reflect on previous events
  • To feel connected with family
  • To forgive others
  • To foster a loving attitude toward others

Among religious patients, giving and receiving prayer – as well turning to a higher power without praying – were considered important aspects of care. However non-religious issues such as forgiveness, peace and self-actualization were more important overall.

What if Spiritual and Emotional Needs Aren’t Met?

These needs are similar to physical needs in the sense that if they aren’t addressed, they can “snowball” and lead to other complications. Cancer patients who don’t seek psychosocial support tend to experience more depressive symptoms, feel less peaceful and a have a less meaningful outlook on life.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, patients who find healthy outlets for their emotional stressors tend to have a more positive perception of their experience. Those who receive spiritual support from either doctors or religious leaders often report a higher quality of life. (This may also apply to non-religious support, such as encouragement on a journey for forgiveness.)

Five Tips for Seeking Emotional Care

It’s not always easy to reach out for guidance, but the following steps can help make it a bit easier:

Identify your most pressing needs. As the study demonstrated, what’s highly important to one patient may be an afterthought for another. (For instance, some patients rated it highly important to read spiritual books, while others didn’t find comfort in religious literature.) Spend some time considering what’s pressing on your heart and mind, then identify ways that you (alone or with the help of a professional) can meet those needs. For instance, if – like many of the study participants – you value getting lost in nature, find a local park or pond where you can reflect in peace.

Acknowledge that these issues are a normal part of coping with a cancer diagnosis. There is nothing weak about seeking help for feelings of isolation, feelings of regret, anxiety, depression or other emotional cancer complications. Almost everybody has experienced some of these feelings in one way or another – and seeking professional guidance is a sign of strength. Although the study indicated that most traditional health care professionals didn’t consider spiritual and emotional issues a relevant factor in coping with illness, counselors and other health professionals may be able to offer helpful expertise.

Take small steps to warm up to the idea. There’s no need to jump straight into a therapist’s office. Many patients find it less intimidating to start small, with options like cancer support groups or brief meetings with a trusted religious leader. Reaching out in any way is a positive step.

Consider anonymous options. If you’re not comfortable with face-to-face meetings, anonymous support is available. For instance, we offer an online support group with a licensed counselor; you don’t need to give out identifying information. Online cancer forums and blogs are other ways to anonymously discuss emotional issues pertaining to your diagnosis. (Bear in mind, however, that unless otherwise specified, you might not be speaking with a licensed mental health professional. Carefully consider the validity of any source you take advice from.)

Ask your oncologist for recommendations. Even though they’re trained in the physical aspects of mesothelioma care, your oncologist can refer you to a reputable emotional health professional. If you’re a patient at a larger hospital, they may even have a multidisciplinary program with spiritual or counseling professionals on staff. If you’re an inpatient or outpatient hospice participant, ask your organization about speaking to their nondenominational clergy people or social workers.

Have you had trouble getting your emotional and spiritual needs met? Or do you have tips to share with others? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook.

After graduating with an English degree from Southeastern University in 2010, Faith Franz came on board as a health and wellness writer for The Mesothelioma Center.

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