Health & Wellness

Managing Uncertainty: Coping with Mesothelioma in a Pandemic

Written By:
Dec. 03, 2020
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Written By: Dana Nolan, MS, LMHC,
December 3, 2020

Why do so many people struggle with uncertainty? Perhaps it is comforting to believe that we know what is coming around the next bend in the road of life.

Beginning in childhood, we receive messages that we need to have a plan for our future that could include college, the military, a trade, etc. We are advised to save our money and plan for children and retirement.

Perhaps the focus on planning for our future is part of the reason we expect life to turn out the way we planned. However, many things in life don’t end up the way we expect them to because life is actually full of uncertainty.

Many things that affect our lives are not at all in our control such as the weather, the economy and global health crises. For people who are comforted by predictability, routine and certainty, uncertainty can be particularly uncomfortable. It can lead to anxious feelings and attempts to control other things in life that we feel we can control.

A diagnosis of mesothelioma introduces a great deal of uncertainty into the lives of patients and their caregivers. Doctor appointments, treatment schedules and managing side effects replace the schedules and plans that mesothelioma patients and caregivers once had.

Mesothelioma treatment can affect people differently, so it’s not possible to know for sure how someone will feel during and after treatment.

After surgery or chemotherapy is complete, there is still uncertainty while waiting to see if the treatment worked or if the mesothelioma continues to progress.

COVID-19 Pandemic Adds Challenges

In the last nine months, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone as this deadly virus challenges our health care system, our economy and our way of life in ways we have never experienced.

It took some time to determine the best way to protect the public from catching the virus and what factors put someone at increased risk of dying from it.

This pandemic has upended so many plans that people had for this year. Students were sent home from school in the spring with no plan of when they could safely return.

Restrictions on leaving your home meant some people had to shift to working remotely. Sadly, many people lost their jobs due to businesses closing.

At this time, there are some positive signs that a vaccine will be available soon, but the timetable is far from certain.

Those coping with a challenging diagnosis like mesothelioma during this pandemic are feeling especially overwhelmed. The normal challenges of having mesothelioma are compounded by the fact that cancer patients are at increased risk of a worse outcome should they test positive for COVID-19.

Most mesothelioma patients have compromised immune systems. Pleural mesothelioma patients have lung function limitations, so a possible COVID-19 diagnosis can be quite alarming.

COVID-19 has also impacted how cancer treatment centers provide care. Many hospitals and doctor’s offices are limiting loved ones from accompanying patients to appointments.

There is also the fear that in-patient treatments or surgeries will be delayed due to hospital staffing shortages or lack of beds.

Ways to Cope with Pandemic Challenges

As a mental health professional, I am seeing in my practice each day that this uncertainty is taking a toll on us all. When someone has a serious health issue like mesothelioma, the challenges and uncertainty are compounded.

Luckily, there are a few things we can do to help us cope with this uncertainty in life.

Accepting that we are feeling stressed is the first step to living with COVID-19 challenges. By acknowledging that we are struggling, we give ourselves permission to seek support and to not expect to be strong and positive all the time.

Life is difficult enough trying to survive mesothelioma during a global pandemic without having unrealistic expectations of ourselves.

Reflecting back on other times in our lives when we have coped with unexpected challenges is also very helpful. We have all had life throw us curveballs (car accidents, job losses, deaths of loved ones, etc.) that we have had to dig deep within ourselves to get through.

While those events may have been emotionally painful to deal with, we did survive those challenges. Ask yourself: What did you do to get through those times? Did you lean on friends more? Did you focus on self-care? Did you allow yourself to take time off work for a little while? Did you seek counseling?

Routines are quite helpful in bringing some certainty back into our lives. Think of things that you regularly do each day or week. If you used to go out regularly to a local Mexican restaurant for Taco Tuesday, you can still keep up that tradition. You may need to modify your routine by picking up food to go for your own safety.

Keeping a regular schedule of eating, sleeping and exercising will also help things feel a bit normal. Many people have dealt with the loneliness of isolation by scheduling regular video chats with family and friends in lieu of getting together regularly in person.

There is a saying that the only thing certain in life is uncertainty. More than likely we have dealt with a lot of uncertainty in our lives before, and while it was not comfortable for us, we made it through.

It is important to remember this now and to reach out for help to get through these challenging times.

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