If you have mesothelioma, you will need to seek cancer treatments. However, mesothelioma treatments often have side effects that can sometimes be serious. By focusing on your mental and physical health, you may have a better chance at long-term survival as you undergo treatment.

Taking Care of Your Health During Cancer Treatment

A mesothelioma cancer diagnosis is devastating news for patients and their families. There is no cure for mesothelioma at this time, but treatment options are available to potentially improve or extend a patient’s life span.

Common forms of treatment include chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. However, there is still a chance the cancer will return — even if treatments remove all visible signs of mesothelioma from a patient’s body. The side effects of mesothelioma treatments can also make patients uncomfortable or worsen their health.

Despite these potential obstacles, patients can take care of their health while undergoing treatment for mesothelioma. By prioritizing your mental and physical health, you may improve your quality of life and increase your odds of long-term survival.

Cancer Treatment and Mental Health

Mesothelioma treatments focus on reducing or removing cancerous masses from inside the body. However, the mental health effects of mesothelioma should not be ignored.

Common mental health conditions associated with cancer include:

  • Anxiety: Patients facing cancer may experience intense worries about treatment and their overall health. Anxiety can come in short bursts or linger for long periods of time.
  • Depression: Since mesothelioma is so rare and incurable, patients may feel severely isolated and hopeless. If these feelings linger, the patient may be experiencing depression.
  • Panic Attacks: A patient may have a panic attack if their fears overwhelm them. Panic attacks come on very strong and may be mistaken for other medical conditions like a heart attack.

While it’s natural for all cancer patients to be concerned after a cancer diagnosis, sometimes long-term mental health problems can set in as well.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) notes that these mental health conditions can also bring on physical health problems.

Health issues caused by mental health disorders include:

  • Abnormal changes to stress hormones
  • Heart palpitations
  • Increased inflammation
  • Muscular tension
  • Problems with sleep

These problems can make it harder for patients to stay healthy as they receive cancer treatments. Fortunately, this does not have to be the case. There are many services available that can help patients stay mentally healthy.

Counseling

Counseling from a therapist can help mesothelioma patients learn to emotionally cope with their diagnosis and the challenges that come with treatment. By doing so, patients can decrease their stress and work toward physical recovery.

Patients can work with a therapist one-on-one to address their concerns and figure out their next steps. In addition, family sessions can help everyone affected by the diagnosis work through their problems together.

To schedule an appointment with a therapist, a patient should discuss their mental health concerns with their doctor. Their doctor may be able to recommend counselors who can help. It may also be helpful to try out different therapists, so you can find one that best suits your needs.

Support Groups

Support groups allow mesothelioma patients to connect with others who are also undergoing cancer treatments. With the guidance of a mental health counselor, members of cancer support groups share their struggles and work toward solutions.

Support groups can be very helpful for patients, as they will know they are not alone in their fight. There are many different types of support groups, including those for specific types of cancer and those for family members.

Support groups can meet in person, through phone calls or online. If a patient does not feel a support group is right for them or they feel uncomfortable with a large group, they can still seek help by working individually with a counselor.

Cancer Treatment and Physical Health

The physical health of a mesothelioma patient plays a big role in what treatments they receive.

Mesothelioma treatments — especially surgery — require lengthy recovery periods.

During this time, patients will be weaker and more likely to develop infections or other complications.

Doctors will recommend treatments based, in part, on the patient’s physical health. If a patient’s body is in poor shape, their treatment options may be limited. By staying physically healthy, patients may have a better chance of receiving the most effective treatments and avoiding other health issues.

Diet and Nutrition

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), cancer treatments can affect the way that a patient eats and processes food. Certain nutrients and foods can also help — or hinder — an effective treatment plan.

Because of these issues, patients should discuss their diets with their health care providers before receiving treatments for mesothelioma. This will allow patients to maintain a diet that will be the most helpful for them.

According to the ACS, good nutrients during cancer treatment include:

  • Fiber
  • Protein
  • Water
  • Whole grains

Bad nutrients include:

  • Certain herbs and ‘natural’ remedies, such as those found in liquid extracts
  • Saturated and trans fats
  • Very high doses of vitamins or supplements

The ACS notes that a patient’s diet may need to be significantly changed as they undergo treatment. For example, some cancer patients may need to eat high-calorie foods if they have lost a lot of weight. Patients should consult their treatment team to determine how their diet may change with treatment.

Exercise

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), exercising regularly may help improve the lives of those with mesothelioma. Exercise has been shown to help with a number of mental and physical conditions that may affect cancer patients. The ACS also notes that exercise may reduce the risk of recurrence as well.

These conditions include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Pain and discomfort
  • Muscle weakness

Of course, it will take time for patients to recover from the effects of treatment. Because of this, the ACS recommends that patients start off slowly and work toward their exercise goals over time.

Physical Therapy

As mesothelioma patients recover from treatment, they may need the help of physical therapists. Physical therapy may help improve their strength and overall health levels.

Working with a physical therapist can be very beneficial for cancer patients. Therapists can listen to the patient’s area of concern and work with them to rebuild their strength. The ultimate goal of many physical therapy programs will be to get the patient moving independently.

It may take several weeks or months before a patient has returned to their pre-treatment strength. In some cases, the effects of treatment may leave long-lasting or permanent effects. In these cases, physical therapists will aim to get the patient as strong and independent as possible.

Your Health Matters as You Receive Treatment

Cancer treatments are the only way to extend or improve a mesothelioma patient’s lifespan. That being said, some of these treatments have serious side effects. Mesothelioma patients can stay healthy during treatment by making sure they eat a nutritious diet, exercise or perform physical therapy and seek mental health counseling if needed.

Patients should also communicate with their medical providers about their needs as they receive treatment. Mesothelioma specialists will have the necessary knowledge and skills to properly advise their patients on how to stay healthy.

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Sources
  1. https://www.cancer.org/treatment/survivorship-during-and-after-treatment/staying-active/nutrition/nutrition-and-physical-activity-during-and-after-cancer-treatment.html
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/survivors/patients/staying-healthy-during-cancer-treatment.htm
  3. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml
  4. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/chronic-illness-mental-health/index.shtml
  5. https://www.cancer.net/coping-with-cancer/finding-support-and-information/counseling
  6. https://www.cancer.net/coping-with-cancer/finding-support-and-information/support-groups
  7. https://www.cancer.org/treatment/survivorship-during-and-after-treatment/staying-active/nutrition/nutrition-during-treatment.html
  8. https://www.cancer.org/treatment/survivorship-during-and-after-treatment/staying-active/nutrition/nutrition-during-treatment/benefits.html
  9. https://www.cancer.net/coping-with-cancer/managing-emotions/anxiety
  10. https://www.cancer.net/coping-with-cancer/managing-emotions/depression
  11. https://www.choc.org/programs-services/rehabilitation/physical-therapy-cancer-treatment/

Last modified: May 8, 2019