Tips on Providing Support, Advice to Mesothelioma Patients

Providing Support to a Patient

As a cancer counselor, caregivers often ask me what helpful and supportive things they should say or do for a loved with mesothelioma.

We all have different views about what we consider supportive when we are sick. Some people like a lot of support, reassurance and offers of practical assistance. Others prefer to be treated completely normal – as if there is no health crisis at all – by their family and friends, unless they ask for assistance.

There is no right way to support someone you love who is diagnosed with mesothelioma. There is only the way that works best for them and you.

Offering Specific Types of Support

I suggest you start by asking your friend or loved one how you can best support them. Listen to their requests and think about how you can provide that support. Another option is to offer specific ways to help:

  • Can you drive them to a doctor or treatment appointment once a week?
  • Are you willing to mow their lawn while they are in treatment?
  • Can you regularly provide meals for their family?
  • Are you available 24/7 if they just want to talk or cry over the phone?

Some people are reluctant to ask for help when they have mesothelioma because they don’t know how much is too much to ask. If you offer something specific, then there is no question in their mind what help you mean when you make the offer.

Keep Them Connected

Many patients with mesothelioma say they appreciate the outpouring of support and concern right after they are diagnosed. However, they report that co-workers, family and friends often stop calling and offering support as their treatment progresses over several weeks and months.

Many mesothelioma patients feel lonely and can experience feelings of depression. Visiting, making phone calls and sending emails or cards all throughout the course of treatment can help them feel connected to the outside world.

Know When to Offer Help

When people we love are hurt or scared, it is natural for us to want to help them or give them advice. However, most patients want help or advice only when they ask for it. Unsolicited advice or help can actually make patients feel useless or incapable of taking care of themselves.

Avoid offering advice that begins with, “You oughta try…” Instead, choose a more open-ended question like, “How do you feel about…?”

One last suggestion: Resist the temptation to tell your loved one with mesothelioma to “always be positive and strong.” It is easy for patients to feel positive when they hear good news from their doctor or experience a day free of side effects. However, when they struggle or learn that a treatment isn’t working as planned, then the pressure to “be positive” is no longer helpful. In fact, it can make them feel like they are failing as a patient.

Our loved ones with mesothelioma are entitled to every single emotion that accompanies their experience – the good, the bad and the ugly. We can best support them by listening to how they are feeling and accepting their sadness, tears or anger.

Educate Yourself

Take some time and learn about mesothelioma and what it’s like to undergo treatment. Asbestos.com provides news on the latest treatments, blogs from caregivers and survivors, and also offers a monthly support group. The site also includes plenty of information on doctors and treatment centers.

You can also do your research on the National Cancer Institute or American Cancer Society websites. Learning about your loved one’s cancer and treatment plan can help them to feel loved and understood as they talk about their cancer experience.


Dana Nolan, MS, LMHC, is a licensed mental health counselor who leads The Mesothelioma Center’s monthly support group. She specializes in working with individuals affected by cancer. Dana practices in Altamonte Springs, Fla.

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