Back in the 1990s, when my father battled mesothelioma, counseling was not part of his treatment. He discussed his mental state and final wishes with the oncologist, but no one truly addressed Dad’s mental well-being.
A mesothelioma diagnosis starts an arduous journey that stirs many intense emotions and fears.
The cancer’s poor prognosis brings patients and their loved ones face to face with these feelings, as well as tough end-of-life decisions.
Counselors can help terminally ill patients address uncomfortable topics and guide them through difficult conversations with their loved ones. In addition, they help patients and families accept the final stages of illness and maximize the patient’s quality of life.
I’m certain my father, like many others, avoided difficult conversations to spare his family and loved ones any unnecessary heartbreak. While I admire his self-sacrifice, I have to wonder how he would have benefitted from talking to a counselor.
Benefits of End-of-Life Counseling
When most people picture end-of-life counseling, they tend to think about final wishes and documents about the patient’s health care choices if they are no longer able to make decisions on their own.
While counselors do help patients address these topics, they also guide patients toward physical and emotional well-being. They help people accept mortality and meet their social and spiritual needs.
The stigma associated with mental health care is dissipating. It is now common for cancer patients to choose counseling as a part of their care.
The American Counseling Association (ACA), the world’s largest association representing professional counselors, made some major updates to its code of ethics in 2005. All ACA counselors are now required to follow the changes, which brought significant advances in end-of-life care.
In Counseling Today, an ACA publication, Dr. Christine Moll says the new ACA standard is about developing and implementing plans to assist patients with end-of-life decisions. It also strives to keep patients as independent as possible.
Counselors today help terminally ill people:
- Maximize their quality of life
- Maintain independence for as long as possible
- Make important end-of-life decisions
- Get the emotional support they need
- Focus less on the illness and more on remaining life
My father came to a point in his battle with mesothelioma where his focus shifted from fighting his illness to enjoying his final days with the people he cared for and doing the things he loved. Talking to a counselor during this transition in care can help mesothelioma patients sift through the details of such a tough decision.
Helpful Resource for Cancer Survivors
When my dad faced mesothelioma, it seemed as though our family was bombarded with turmoil, and there wasn’t much in the way of resources.
Fortunately, there are many resources available to mesothelioma patients to show them what to expect as they approach the end of their lives.
The National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship offers an excellent audio resource called the Cancer Survival Toolbox.The free resource is designed to guide families through all stages of cancer, and it offers specific advice for end-of-life decisions and managing grief.
The program helps patients and loved ones:
- Manage hopes and expectations
- Make choices about treatment and symptom management
- Make decisions about hospice and palliative care
- Address anxiety and depression
- Effectively communicate with treatment team and family members
In addition, the guide helps people improve on basic skills important to every cancer survivor, including communication, problem solving, negotiating and finding information.
When Our Loved Ones Need to Talk
It’s common for cancer patients to want to talk about their emotions and experiences, but there are some topics that are simply too tender to discuss with friends and loved ones.
Counselors are the perfect outlet for patients who want to discuss their fears, goals and difficult feelings without disrupting the emotional ties shared with family member or loved ones.
If my dad had talked about his fear of dying with my mother, it probably would have sparked a highly emotional reaction.
Had I known then what I know now, I would have urged my father to see a counselor. Not because he was emotionally unstable, but because counselors offer experience and guidance that not all listening ears can.
If you think you or your loved one might benefit from seeing a counselor, bring it up at your next appointment. Your oncologist or family doctor can refer you to a qualified professional who can meet your needs. Many insurance companies and hospice centers even cover the cost of counseling sessions for patients and their families.
Seeing a counselor may be the best way to make your emotional well-being a top priority and ensure the highest quality of life.