4 Tips for Coping with Mesothelioma Caregiver Stress

Two women holding hands over a table

When a loved one has a serious illness such as mesothelioma, family members and friends typically rally around the patient to offer practical help and emotional support.

During this time, it’s important for caregivers to have realistic expectations of themselves, the patient and any other caregivers. When everyone expresses their feelings and concerns in a healthy way, the patient benefits from the teamwork.

However, achieving this balance isn’t always easy. Emotions such as fear and frustration, as well as caregiver stress, can lead to miscommunication and disagreements between patients and caregivers.

Tips for Minimizing Conflict and Coping with Caregiver Stress

Although cancer-related stress can be difficult to handle, there are a variety of techniques and tools that can help you minimize conflict and keep the patient’s needs in center focus.

  • Acknowledge that the patient and other caregivers involved are unique individuals with their own personalities, strengths and skills. There is not a right way to be a mesothelioma patient or a caregiver; there is just your way. Rather than telling someone how to help, let them offer help based on their strengths. For example, some caregivers would much rather do physical tasks for the patient, such as yard work or run errands, than sit with the patient for three hours in a chemotherapy center. A caregiver with great accounting and organizational skills might be the best person to help the patient keep track of all the medical bills and insurance paperwork that piles up during treatment.
  • Always include the patient in care-related discussions. Making assumptions about what the patient wants or needs typically leads to misunderstandings and unnecessary stress for the patient. Some patients feel comforted when their loved ones jump in and take over responsibilities. Others need to keep control of certain things in their life because so much feels out of their control during treatment. People who prefer to maintain control during treatment actually enjoy cooking, doing laundry and other chores when they have the energy.
  • Understand that patients and loved ones cope with the stress of cancer differently. Again, there is no right way to cope with a mesothelioma diagnosis or the responsibility of being a caregiver. However, conflict usually results when patients or caregivers are told they are feeling the “wrong” emotion or coping the “wrong” way. Accepting different thoughts, emotions and coping styles in others may be challenging, but ultimately, it goes a long way toward creating a harmonious caregiving team.
  • Use technology to coordinate caregiver duties or communicate with caregivers. Strong communication is crucial, and there are plenty of online resources available to help you achieve it. Lotsa Helping Hands allows patients and caregivers to create a list of tasks and invite other caregivers to sign up to help. Meal Train and Take Them a Meal allow you to coordinate the delivery of meals to the patient and family members. CaringBridge allows patients or caregivers to easily share important health updates with loved ones in one place.

Overcoming Struggles When Dealing with Cancer

Working in the patient and family counseling department of a major cancer center for over a decade, I regularly helped patients and caregivers work through periods of conflict and stress. Most of the family conflicts I observed resulted from poor communication and unrealistic expectations of the patient or other caregivers.

Even doctors and nurses feel stress at times over the responsibility of taking care of their patients. While professional caregivers may like their patients, it’s important to understand they don’t feel love, affection or concern for their patients in the same way the patient’s family and friends do.

It is that love and affection that drives loved ones to care for and support patients when they are sick. But those same emotions and worries also can fuel conflict between the patient and caregiver or within the caregiving team.

Why would this be?

Caregiving Isn’t a Contest

Some caregivers believe the quantity or quality of their caregiving duties is a reflection of how much they love the patient. For instance, caregivers may feel obligated to attend every doctor or treatment appointment to demonstrate how much they love the patient.

It’s not hard to see how conflict can develop if an entire family or caregiving team feels obligated to demonstrate their love through their caregiving duties. It also may lead caregivers to not take into consideration what their patients really want in terms of help and support from them.

Many patients have said it helps make them feel better when their family treats them “normally” and allows them to do chores or activities by themselves. This is often preferred over having loved ones insist the patient be cared for like a sick person.

When families communicate in a healthy way and allow each other to express their opinions and viewpoints, then caregiving as a team is possible. Family meetings, either in person or by phone, allow the opportunity to share information, divide up tasks and provide support to each other and the patient.

Some families may need the help of a professional such as a counselor or oncology social worker who can help mediate and promote healthy communication.

Remember that many major cancer centers offer these types of services.


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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