Mesothelioma is a disease that comes with a grim outlook with only an average of 8% of patients who survive five years after their diagnosis. Because it has such a poor prognosis, a big part of treating mesothelioma – or any form of cancer, really – includes addressing mental impact it has on patients and their family members.
Any diagnosis of cancer can be scary and overwhelming, even more so when one is told that it is in the late stages and they are considered terminal. The news can be devastating and have a serious impact on their mental health, not only for the individual patient, but also for their family members, close friends, and even a broader circle of acquaintances. Learning to live with the diagnosis, going through treatment, side effects from medication and living with limitations can cause depression in many patients and their loved ones.
Given this common and natural grief, many mesothelioma patients and their family members have found it helpful to talk with a specialist who can give them guidance by helping them to understand their grief and learn how to approach it. In many ways, these grief counselors are as just as important as mesothelioma doctors who address the physical disease within the patient.
The Role of a Grief Counselor for Patients
Grief counselors are often found in a hospice setting, though it is important to note that grief can be felt by any cancer patient, not only those who are terminally ill. Grief counselors can also be found in hospitals, cancer centers, nursing homes, and private practice, in addition to hospices.
Many grief counselors work as part of a multidisciplinary team to help. Counselors can help patients and family members prepare for the reality of death by educating them about the dying process. Studies have shown that education about the changes and processes before one’s death can reduce anxiety and prevent misconceptions about dying that they may have from the media.
They can also help with pain management by using traditional psychological interventions such as hypnosis and relaxation techniques. Counselors can provide information on how the body may change and give guidance about when patients should contact a physician. They also address the loss of functional capabilities as the illness progresses – since for many people, the inability to complete daily routines and lead what they consider a normal life can cause anxiety and depression.
Grief counselors can address other emotions as well. In addition to grief, many patients experience anger, fear, or even guilt, when they come face-to-face with their cancer. Grief counselors can help a person redefine life by:
- Facilitating their communication about feelings of being a burden;
- Supporting them as they struggle to keep up with the changes induced by cancer; and
- Encouraging the search for meaning in their daily tasks, thus allowing patients to be present rather than focusing on an indefinite future.
Counselors can also facilitate or support open communication between patients and their family members and empower patients to maintain a social life, despite physical limitations, according to their ability and willingness.
Other ways in which grief counselors can help their patients include:
- Creating a personal definition of an appropriate death, such as by settling financial affairs, distribution of property, care of body, developing funeral plans, etc.
- Focusing on what patients want and can still achieve in the time they still have (i.e., bucket list), such as spending more time with loved ones, reconciling with certain friends and family, visiting close areas of interest, etc.
- Connecting patients with other cancer patients or survivors who have undergone, or are undergoing, similar situations.
The Role of Grief Counselors for Family Members
While grief counseling may be focused around the individual who has cancer, it is also important for family members to receive counseling for their own grief. Family members of those diagnosed with cancer are at an increased risk for depression and anxiety – especially those who are acting as a caregiver.
Before the loss of the patient, the counselor plays a role in educating family members about end-of-life care, such as changes to the body and processes leading up to death. Counselors also provide emotional support by helping family members process their emotions and feelings around the mesothelioma diagnosis.
After the loss of someone to cancer, family members will often need help in assimilating into their new lives without the presence of their loved one. It can be a difficult adjustment for some individuals, including everything from the immediate needs, like funeral arrangements and executing the person’s estate, to long-term effects that the deceased individual had performed, such as maintaining property (home, car, etc.) or working to support the family.
Ultimately, grief counselors can help family members through the unavoidable period of bereavement by listening, offering emotional support, and sharing ways for the family member them to accept their loss and ease back into normalcy.
Incorporating Grief Counseling into Cancer Treatment
Grief counseling is vital for patients who have been diagnosed with cancer, especially those with a poor prognosis such as mesothelioma. It should be an integrative part of caring for both the patient and their family members.
By incorporating grief counseling into a cancer treatment plan, counselors can help patients and family members learn to accept the diagnosis, offer emotional support and encouragement, provide education about what to expect, help plan for end of life care, and support family members through the loss of the patient.
These are all essential services for anyone who is diagnosed with cancer, as well as those with family or close friends who are diagnosed. Talk with your doctor about grief counseling, or connect with someone who can answer your questions today.