My father was diagnosed with mesothelioma at the height of his career. Things were going great for our family. He had just begun paying for his dream house, his son had gotten married, and after all his years of hard work, his life was coming together.
He just had some symptoms that had worsened to the point that they could no longer be ignored. He saw a doctor, and after a few visits, he was diagnosed with mesothelioma. The stress of having a diagnosis like this is immeasurable. He worried about finances. How could he pay for a dream house with no income? He worried about his health. How could he work if he was sick? He worried about his family. How could they survive without his income?
There is an old saying that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. It rings true when families face an illness like mesothelioma. People diagnosed with mesothelioma or other cancers must find inner strength they never knew they had.
My father displayed his strength and courage as he fought his disease. He also showed his composure and ability to manage stress. He was able to smile in the face of mesothelioma. He was resilient. Psychologically, this implies that he had a healthy coping mechanism that allowed him to assess his situation, and find solutions that satisfied his physical and psychological responses to stress.
Many emotions can also fall upon family members during these tough times. I learned from the experience with my father’s battle with mesothelioma that we can find reserves of strength we never knew about. We smile and proceed through battle, but what happens when the battle is ensuing and unchecked stress becomes unhealthy?
Researchers warn of the ill effects of stress on the mind and body. Studies published in the 16th edition of Abnormal Psychology show people under significant amounts of stress are less able to heal. The effects of stress impact our immune systems, making the system less capable of healing wounds. People with unhealthy levels of stress can take 24 percent to 40 percent longer to heal their bodies than people who successfully manage their levels of stress.
Stress management is key to remaining healthy, even in very stressful situations. Understanding how stress affects our bodies and minds is an important part of stress management.
There is a lot going on in our minds and bodies as we handle stress. Stress can affect our physical body as much as it affects the mind. Without excellent coping skills, a person can be more susceptible to the ill effects of stress, which can lead to serious illnesses like heart problems and the development of a mental disorder. It is important for a caretaker, as well as a patient battling an illness to manage stress levels. Failure to manage stress levels can further compound existing health problems.
Adapting to stressful situations can take a biological and mental toll on our bodies and minds. Any stress can affect us, but unchecked stress can be even more damaging. Developing excellent coping skills is extremely important when learning to deal with the added stress of caring for a sick loved one or battling a significant illness like mesothelioma.
Coping skills can be as varied as the people who develop them. For me, a coping skill is just a fancy term for something that reduces your stress level and makes you feel emotionally better. I have found writing and talking about issues that trouble me to be very good coping skills that I have developed over the years.
Understanding the risks of developing mental disorders is also important. Stress-related disorders have earned a category of their own in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Psychologists use the DSM to aid in the description and diagnosis of disorders. Stress can lead to the development of anxiety disorders as well as depersonalization and derealization.
Struggling with a major health diagnosis like mesothelioma can create a whirlwind of stress that swirls around the entire family. Learning to alleviate stress in healthy ways can be beneficial to the family and the person diagnosed. People fighting an illness must also battle the effects of stress brought on by the illness. Finding an outlet is important. Spending time doing things you love with those you love can be a stress-relieving outlet.
My father liked to play cards and hang out with his family. When he wasn’t physically able to do some of the things he loved, he found new activities that relieved his stress. One of our favorite things to do, after his health worsened, was to watch “Jeopardy” together. It came on every night at 7:30, and we rarely missed an episode. He enjoyed our race to answer questions correctly, and it alleviated some of the stress his illness created. I still find the game show as enjoyable as I did then. Curiously, I find it relieves stress for me, as well.
If watching my father’s battle has taught me anything about myself, it is that I can find the strength to move on — even when I don’t feel like it. If I can live through losing him, I can live through anything.