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Mesothelioma and Depression – The Ongoing Struggle That Patients Face

Mesothelioma and Depression – The Ongoing Struggle That Patients Face

Straight Talk about Mesothelioma, a blog series created by Michael T. Milano, M.D., Ph.D., a radiation oncology specialist, as a resource for mesothelioma patients and their loved ones.


Grief and depression used to be something people talked about behind closed doors – if at all. Many people might attribute this shut-off attitude as being symptomatic of an older generation. But in our current age, it seems that depression is something that’s become less taboo.

This is good news for patients who have tough or incurable diseases, such as aggressive cancers. Talking about one’s feelings and knowing that what one is saying isn’t falling on deaf ears can make all the difference in the world.

It’s Not Your Fault

Today, we’re more knowledgeable about cancers and their causes. We know that it’s not “somebody’s fault” that they’ve been diagnosed with a disease.

We also know that expressing feelings can lead to better medical outcomes. It seems there’s a lot of concerted effort to get people to open up more; for learning about a certain medical condition, physical or mental, can help doctors make suitable arrangements for treatment. Health experts understand that self-expression and community support can help cancer patients battle depression and anxiety. And battling such things can prove vital in the overall war on cancer.

For those with mesothelioma, both self-expression and being aware of one’s emotions are extremely important qualities. Speaking up can lead to a previously depressed patient finding new inspiration and ways to carry on.

Mesothelioma Patients Speak Out

Take the case of Willie Jeandron, a New Orleans man who was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2002 after growing up in a West Bank neighborhood where encountering asbestos was routine.

“I went down to 140 pounds.” Willie said in a Fox News report. After going into detail about the physical and mental challenges he’d faced, Willie talked about his personal outlook and how talking about his disease with others changed his worldview for the better.

“If I could take one person’s life, and change it and put it in the right direction, if I can give one person inspiration and courage to go through and never give up, and fight it, and beat it…then it’s all worth it.”

There’s also the story of Julie Gundlach from St. Louis, MI, who was diagnosed with a rare form of mesothelioma affecting the stomach lining. Gundlach talked to the press about her own self-advocacy in getting breakthrough treatments, after being told that a poor prognosis was likely.

“I’ve got a beautiful home, an amazing husband, a beautiful daughter,” Gundlach said. “I love my life…I’m not going to give up without a fight.” She also talks about taking the fight to companies that still use asbestos in products. “It needs to be banned.” Gundlach said, obviously distraught about lax industry rules that leave so many people vulnerable to exposure.

What these 2 and many other mesothelioma victims have in common is that they chose to speak out. By talking about their experiences, these patients can create awareness and empower others, and they can also help themselves to triumph over depression.

Why It’s Important to be Upfront about Grief & Depression

It’s vital for caregivers to encourage mesothelioma patients to give voice to their emotions. Those suffering from this disease need to have a safe place to talk about their problems and any other thoughts they may be having.

Maybe a doctor or other trusted medical caregiver can be a listening ear. If a patient isn’t that comfortable talking with doctors, he or she can talk to close family members or friends, or join a support group.

We know that the mind-body connection is a powerful one. In fact, many doctors and other medical professionals have seen a positive mentality affect the body in amazing ways. Many of us have also seen miraculous things happen when people embrace positivity. This can mean reduction of pain or symptoms, unthinkable longevity after a poor prognosis, or results that some medical doctors might describe as “miraculous.”

Taking Control

Along with expressing their feelings and facing grief and depression head-on, patients can also use strategic activities and methods to conquer obstacles and become more confident about what’s ahead.

For instance, the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation (MARF), a national support organization for mesothelioma victims, suggests that meditation can often have a positive effect on one’s mind and body. Other ideas from the non-profit’s website include the use of hypnosis, as well as “imaging” – a mind-body concept that encourages people to focus on and visualize positive end results to combat pain and side effects.

Many mind-body experts suggest that, if possible, a cancer patient try yoga, as there are forms of yogic activity that do not require a lot of physical mobility, and can still deliver mental and physical benefits. One of these is nadi shodhana, a breathing technique that can produce better respiratory results.

There are lots of ways that a patient can overcome depression associated with cancer, but the very first step is acknowledging that grief and depression are problems.

Gone are the days where such a thing was taboo or frowned upon; talking to trusted friends, family members, care providers, or others about feelings and emotions can make a tremendous difference in a person’s outlook and overall wellbeing.

Depression doesn’t have to be suffered through in silence – it’s not an “off-limits” subject. When you’re living every day with a rare and deadly cancer, nothing is more important than taking care of yourself spiritually and mentally, and that’s why emotional support is so important.

Dr. Milano is a sponsored contributor to Mesothelioma Help Now.