Mesothelioma and Women: Scholarship Winner Sees Challenges


Written by Catalina Valdez • Edited By Walter Pacheco

Catalina Valdez is pursuing a Master of Science degree in sociology at Brigham Young University. She is studying immigration, race and ethnicity, family and language. She is the second-place winner of the Fall 2022 scholarship.

In the past year, I have witnessed incredible women endure heartbreaking tragedies.

A mentor from my teen years learned that her young son has an inoperable tumor on his brain stem. It’s a cancer known as diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma. He has less than four months. Another close friend found out her mother has terminal cancer. The prognosis is equally bleak.

While my mentor and friend are offering much-needed support, they are also carrying the burden of knowing their loved ones will soon no longer be at their side. And as they take on their new caregiving role, neither can pause their ongoing responsibilities to their other family members. 

Painful situations like these occur even more frequently for women whose lives have been touched by mesothelioma, either as caregivers or patients.

Women as Caregivers

While the asbestos-related cancer mostly affects men, many of their caregivers are their wives, sisters and daughters.

Women already fulfill caregiving positions more than men. A 2020 National Alliance for Caregiving report showed women comprise 61% of family caregivers in the United States. In contrast, about 50.5% of the nation’s population is female, according to the latest census figures. 

A 2010 study found that mesothelioma patients have an increased risk of mental health issues. Symptoms such as depression, intrusive thoughts, sleep difficulties and anger were among the mental health issues observed.

Researchers said these symptoms may also cause their caregivers to struggle because caring for someone with mental health issues can be mentally and emotionally taxing. 

The National Alliance for Caregiving report reveals caregivers whose recipients have mental health issues have:

These difficulties may seem minute compared to the struggles facing people with mesothelioma, but mesothelioma diagnoses are not individual experiences. The impacts of terminal illness are just as keenly felt by close family members as the patients themselves.

More comprehensive research leads to better treatment for mesothelioma patients and their families. It’s essential that female caregivers’ experiences are not overlooked. They play a vital role in caring for people with mesothelioma. 

How Women With Mesothelioma Manage Emotions

While women generally act as caregivers in the mesothelioma community, they are not immune to contracting it. As a result, women’s experiences as patients are less represented in research and literature compared to men.

In 2021, the European Journal of Oncology Nursing published a study on the gendered experiences of living with mesothelioma. Researchers found that women felt the need to regulate the emotions of those around them following their own mesothelioma diagnosis. 

One female patient intended to convince her boyfriend not to come see her when she was on a ventilator. She didn’t want to worsen his anxiety. Another patient chose to not tell her male partner that she’d been bleeding through her stitches. Her reason: “He’d have been a nervous wreck.” 

This sort of emotion management was absent among men, researchers said.

Preferred Types of Support 

The study also reported differing support preferences between sexes. Women tended to gravitate toward support groups to discuss their own and others’ experiences. Men were less open to that idea. 

These unique ways women with mesothelioma respond to their diagnoses is important. They provide caregivers and medical personnel a better understanding of how to best treat women with mesothelioma.

As we continue advocating and researching for the betterment of mesothelioma patients, we must take a comprehensive look at those impacted by mesothelioma — particularly women’s experiences — to ensure they, too, are receiving optimal care.