6 Min Read
Last Updated: 02/16/2024
Fact Checked

Written by Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RDN | Medically Reviewed By Dana Nolan, MS, LMHC | Edited By Walter Pacheco

Mental Health After a Diagnosis

A diagnosis of mesothelioma can be frightening and demanding. Learning you have cancer can overwhelm even your best coping skills.

Mental health may not be at the top of your concerns after a mesothelioma diagnosis, but it’s important to take care of your mind and body.

Understanding the level and type of psychological distress common among mesothelioma patients is a good place to start.

Learning about the connection between cancer and mental health, along with ways to manage these challenges is another important step. This will put you on the path to finding the support you need.

A focus on mental health awareness and self-care for mesothelioma patients should be a priority. Your doctors, nurses and caregivers know you’ll do better during treatment if your emotional needs are met.

Tips for Living With Mesothelioma

A diagnosis of mesothelioma or any type of cancer can be overwhelming. Many people experience denial about their condition. Moving forward can be challenging.

Mesothelioma survivors and mental health experts share the following tips with The Mesothelioma Center for patients now living with mesothelioma:

  1. Acceptance: Once a second opinion confirms your diagnosis, it’s time to get to work.
  2. Focus: Whatever your treatment plan may include, prepare mentally for the fight of your life.
  3. Enjoyment: Treatments may limit your appetite. Between chemotherapy, for example, enjoy favorite foods and treat yourself when you can.
  4. Support: Find a group of fellow mesothelioma patients who understand the experiences you’re having, can offer support and share insights.
  5. Communication: Most people mean well, but don’t always know what to say. Be honest about your comfort level with topics and tones of conversation.

Staying busy can help, but remember to be kind to yourself and let yourself rest when needed. Survivor Kasie Coleman shared, “Enjoy your life. You’ll view life and live life completely differently now because you truly understand how precious life really is, better than anyone. Accept your diagnosis, get focused, fight and win.”

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What Do We Know About Mental Health and Mesothelioma?

There are many studies of cancer and mental health, though only a small portion of these investigations focus on mesothelioma. In March 2018, the American Journal of Industrial Medicine published a review of the best research on this topic.

One common theme emerged from the papers: Mesothelioma patients experience significant psychological distress. The study authors documented stress reactions among people who had received a mesothelioma diagnosis.

Patients and families expressed shock, dismay, anxiety, depression, apathy, difficulty concentrating, anger and social dysfunction. If you’ve been through this, it may help to know you’re not alone in feeling this way.

How Does Cancer Affect Your Mental Health During Treatment?

Research supports that health care professionals play an important role in the severity of distress among mesothelioma patients. In particular, health care providers with better communication skills lessened distress and trauma among patients.

This finding supports the importance of seeing a mesothelioma specialist. The most knowledgeable doctors and nurses are in the best position to help you navigate treatment options. They can do this with skill and compassion.

Knowing you’re in the hands of true mesothelioma experts will make cancer treatment more manageable.

Finding the Right Treatment Facility

Many cancer treatment centers do not have a mesothelioma specialist on staff. This doesn’t mean patients should immediately go somewhere else for cancer care. It simply reflects the fact mesothelioma is rare.

Only a small number of oncologists are considered experts in managing mesothelioma. If your current cancer doctor does not have much experience treating mesothelioma, ask for a second opinion.

Don’t worry about offending your doctor. Oncologists are used to consulting with others. They request second opinions from other doctors themselves.

Your cancer center can help you put the pieces in place to get a second opinion. This might include sending scans, medical records and blood tests to the consulting physician.

A mesothelioma specialist also can be an important link to learning more about clinical trials. An experienced mesothelioma doctor may be conducting a study or have more awareness of ongoing trials appropriate for your diagnosis.

All of this information can contribute to better mental health during chemotherapy, radiation therapy and other treatments you are considering.

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Can Cancer Cause Mental Illness?

People diagnosed with cancer can develop depression and anxiety. According to the National Cancer Institute, up to 25% of cancer patients experience depression.

The depression rate among the general public is around 7% of adults. These statistics suggest the stress of cancer contributes to some forms of mental illness.

People studying the mental health of mesothelioma patients have documented something called “sickness behavior.” This is a set of nonspecific symptoms — fever, loss of appetite, depression, anxiety, trouble making decisions, poor concentration and heightened pain response — occurring in response to receiving the diagnosis.

Supportive Care Works

There is good news: Quality of life improves, and distress decreases for mesothelioma patients who receive the help they need to cope with their diagnosis.

Distress decreases in mesothelioma patients who participate in The Mesothelioma Center’s support group and seek counseling from a licensed mental health professional with expertise in cancer care. People also see significant benefits from physical therapy care to improve physical function, improved diet and palliative care.

Many also find peace of mind from clear and accurate legal information on the possibility of compensation. Getting needed physical, emotional and financial support can help patients maintain strong overall health after a diagnosis.

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