Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer that affects the mesothelium, the protective lining covering many of the body’s internal organs. This cancer is most commonly caused by exposure to asbestos. A mesothelioma diagnosis can be devastating news, leaving patients and families feeling shocked, scared, and overwhelmed.
However, it is important to take proactive steps after receiving this diagnosis in order to improve prognosis and quality of life. Taking control of your health and assembling a strong support team are critical actions to take immediately after being diagnosed with mesothelioma.
1. Learn About Your Diagnosis
Receiving a mesothelioma diagnosis often comes as a shock. One of the first and most important things to do is learn everything you can about this disease. The more you understand about mesothelioma, the better equipped you will be to make informed decisions regarding your care and treatment options.
There are three main types of mesothelioma based on where the cancer develops – pleural (lungs), peritoneal (abdomen), and pericardial (heart). Research the type you have been diagnosed with along with the typical progression and survival rates associated with each stage. Understanding your type and stage will help you know what to expect.
2. Explore Financial Assistance
The costs associated with mesothelioma care can quickly add up. However, there are resources to help you handle medical bills. A financial advocate can identify options based on your specific circumstances.
Filing health insurance claims properly ensures you receive maximum coverage. Medicaid may help cover expenses if income is limited. Filing for Medicare early aids those diagnosed under 65. Charities like the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation provide financial assistance. To streamline this process and to ensure you’re making the right financial decisions, it’s a good idea to get matched with an advocate specializing in mesothelioma-related financial assistance. If you were exposed to asbestos on the job, legal settlements with former employers can help cover medical costs.
Navigating financial aspects can be confusing, but support is available. Consult with an advocate to find programs and services to help you manage expenses related to your mesothelioma treatment.
3. Get a Second Opinion
It is wise to get a second opinion, preferably from a mesothelioma specialist. Mesothelioma is a relatively rare and complex disease, so getting a second expert’s perspective can provide added insight and confidence in your diagnosis and treatment plan.
A specialist may confirm your initial diagnosis and treatment plan. However, in some cases, new information may come to light that changes the recommended course of action. Either way, a second opinion often provides reassurance and an opportunity to explore all options before moving forward. Do not hesitate to get a second set of expert eyes on your case.
4. Assemble Your Medical Team
You will benefit from having a team of doctors and specialists overseeing your mesothelioma care. This team should include a surgical, medical, and radiation oncologist as well as a pulmonologist or other specialists based on your symptoms.
Select doctors who specialize in mesothelioma at a dedicated cancer center. Discuss all treatment plans with your team to coordinate optimal care.
5. Determine Your Treatment Plan
Work closely with your medical team to determine the best course of treatment. The standard options include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. With early diagnosis, surgery can sometimes remove all visible cancer. Multimodality therapy using a combination of surgery, chemo, and radiation has shown the best results. Palliative care can also help manage pain and symptoms.
6. Assemble Your Support Team
Having a strong support system is critical when facing a challenging diagnosis like mesothelioma. In addition to your medical team, assemble a network of family, friends, and professionals who can provide emotional, practical, and specialized support.
Loved ones can offer invaluable day-to-day assistance like rides to appointments, help around the house, meal preparation, and companionship. Confide in close family and friends for comfort and lean on them in difficult times. They want to help you through this, so don’t be afraid to ask.
You may also benefit from connecting with a counselor or support group. Speaking with a therapist can help you process the emotions that come with a cancer diagnosis. Support groups connect you with others going through similar experiences. You can share advice and find solace, knowing you are not alone.
7. Consider Complementary Therapies
Integrative and complementary therapies are often used in conjunction with conventional mesothelioma treatment to help relieve side effects and improve quality of life. These therapies take a holistic approach to care, treating the mind, body, and spirit.
Nutritional counseling can help ensure you maintain proper nutrition during treatment. A dietitian may recommend anti-inflammatory foods or supplements that support healing. Meditation and mindfulness techniques aid in reducing stress and pain. Therapeutic massage loosens tight muscles made tense by surgery and medications. Acupuncture can ease nausea and fatigue.
Always discuss any complementary treatments with your oncology team first to ensure safety and effectiveness. Most of these therapies are low-risk, but it is important your doctors know everything you are doing. An integrative approach that combines traditional mesothelioma treatment with complementary therapies can optimize comfort and well-being.
8. Adjust Your Lifestyle
Adapting your lifestyle is necessary when living with mesothelioma. While your priorities shift to your health, there are positive changes you can make to feel empowered.
Staying active with gentle exercises like walking, yoga, or swimming keeps your body strong. Eating a nutritious anti-inflammatory diet gives your immune system fuel. Quitting smoking helps your lungs function better. Reducing stress through outlets like therapy, meditation, or journaling preserves mental health. Surrounding yourself with positive people and activities that you enjoy lifts your spirits.
Making your physical and emotional needs a priority aids healing. Listen to your body and give it what it requires to function at its best. Adjusting your lifestyle empowers you to actively participate in your recovery.
9. Focus on Your Needs
During your mesothelioma journey, focusing on your own needs and well-being should be the priority. Take time for self-care and do what feels best for you.
Set small, achievable goals related to your treatment, recovery, and quality of life. Let your medical team know your preferences and concerns to customize your care. Make time for activities that relax and recharge you. Spend quality time with loved ones and share your feelings. Staying as mentally and physically strong as possible aids healing.
This is your health battle. Do what empowers you, and know you have the right to make choices based on your needs. Staying positive while proactively participating in your care can help you overcome the challenges of mesothelioma.
Being diagnosed with mesothelioma can be overwhelming. However, taking control of your health and following these steps after diagnosis can empower patients to fight this disease. While mesothelioma presents many challenges, the prognosis is improving thanks to better diagnostic tools, advanced treatments, and a more proactive approach after diagnosis. There is hope. Taking action by making your health and quality of life a priority can help you defy the odds with mesothelioma.