Veterans & Military

Veterans Day Stirs Complicated Feelings for Vets with Mesothelioma

Written By:
Nov. 10, 2021
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Written By: Dana Nolan, MS, LMHC,
November 10, 2021

Despite the inundation of commercials advertising Veterans Day sales on everything, the true reason we celebrate on November 11th is to recognize the contributions and sacrifices of our veterans. It’s important to honor them and thank them for their service, but we should also remember that the day can be an emotional one. It can be a day to reflect on their experiences in the military and to connect with fellow veterans.

Each year approximately 3,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma in the U.S. and veterans make up 30% of those diagnoses. Unfortunately, asbestos was a widely used material in all branches of the military from the 1930s through the early 1980s. 

Exposure to asbestos is the reason why so many of our veterans have mesothelioma. Being diagnosed with an incurable cancer such as mesothelioma brings with it a variety of physical challenges and emotional symptoms. 

Experiencing a Range of Emotions

Veterans experience a wide range of emotions related to their mesothelioma diagnosis and their treatment. Fear of the unknown about their health is widespread and understandable. Guilt at not being able to do what they used to be able to do or feeling like a burden to their loved ones is common as well. 

One aspect of mesothelioma, which is particularly challenging, is that most veterans were exposed to asbestos in the course of their occupations in the military. This can lead to feelings of anger and sadness, which can complicate their feelings about their service. 

As a veteran with mesothelioma, Veterans Day can bring up complex emotions that can seem conflicting at times. Veterans may feel pride about their service in the military as well as be overwhelmed about their future with mesothelioma. 

At times they may experience anger about being exposed to asbestos and then feel positive about their sense of comradery with fellow servicemen and women. It’s possible that veterans with mesothelioma may not feel like celebrating Veterans Day. 

Finding Support Can Help

If you are a veteran and feel some of these complex emotions on Veterans Day, it’s important to acknowledge the validity of all the emotions that accompany a mesothelioma diagnosis. You will have good and bad days emotionally. 

The spotlight on veterans this week will draw attention to your identity as both a veteran and as someone with mesothelioma. This may also bring up some negative thoughts and feelings. Burying those negative feelings, discounting them as weak or taking them out on our loved ones is not a healthy way to cope with those feelings and will only make you feel more alone. 

Just telling ourselves that our feelings are legitimate and understandable can help to take some of the sting away from those feelings. If we are having a down day emotionally, we can let our loved ones know so that they give us whatever kind of support we may need. 

Some people like to be left alone. Others may want company and to talk about how they are feeling. Think about what works for you and ask for the support you need. 

If you are struggling with anger or fear around Veterans Day, it really does help to get those feelings out in some way. Just writing about how we feel is a good way to diffuse those feelings. Talking to others who have the same experience can be helpful as well. Support groups, for example, can help.

Both fear and anger are very energizing emotions, so doing something that tires you out physically can take some of the energy away from those feelings. 

There is no right way to feel or act if you are a veteran with mesothelioma. But, it does help to remember that the mesothelioma experience is incredibly complex and our emotions about it can be complicated as well. Try to pay attention to how you feel and what you need to do to take care of yourself. 

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