It’s those three words everyone fears: “You have cancer.” For some, just reading those words sends shivers down the spine and evokes pictures of frightening treatments and even more frightening outcomes.
A cancer diagnosis is all too common in the U.S. The American Cancer Society says that some 1,600 Americans die each day of some form of the disease, accounting for one of every four deaths in the United States. That same research indicated some 224,000 new cases of lung cancer would be diagnosed in the U.S. for the year 2014, with about 3,000 cases of those lung-related cancers thought to be caused by exposure to asbestos.
So what happens when those fateful words are presented to you or to your loved one? How do you handle it? What do you do?
Just like those experiencing grief in regards to a death, the newly-diagnosed mesothelioma patient will manifest a variety of feelings. The first is usually disbelief. “This can’t be happening to me,” says the cancer victim. “I don’t deserve this.”
Another common feeling is denial. It’s not unusual for the new cancer patient to refuse to believe his/her diagnosis, demanding test after test to disprove the diagnosis. Denial will eventually fade, but – at the beginning – it provides the patient with the last modicum of defense against the diagnosis. “If I don’t believe it, it can’t be so,” thinks the patient.
Anger is also a normal feeling when someone is told they have cancer. In some cases, specifically with a mesothelioma diagnosis, that anger is accompanied by another common reaction – blame. The victim of asbestos-related cancer has every right to be angry and to point fingers because, quite often, their exposure to asbestos – the cause of their cancer – is due to someone else’s negligence. Angry mesothelioma victims can usually track their exposure to a former workplace where no one took time to be sure that employees were protected from airborne asbestos fibers that can later cause cancer. Undoubtedly, that negligence causes irate feelings.
Obviously, the first thing a newly-diagnosed meso patient will want to do is to find out how best to treat their illness and how to find an oncologist who can help suggest ways to extend their lives. But most cancer patients, even if surrounded by loving and supportive family and friends, may need to find professional help for issues like disbelief, denial, anger, and blame. In general, help may be needed to reduce the anxiety surrounding such a diagnosis and to learn to accept what is most likely the inevitable.
The kind of counselor chosen depends on preference. Some patients prefer a clergy person or other spiritual counselor to answer questions like “Why did God let this happen to me?” Others are searching for a medical professional they don’t yet know, feeling they can speak more freely to that person without fear of judgment. Whichever you choose, remember to take some time to talk about issues such as:
- Settling unsolved relationships or family problems
- Dealing with end-of-life issues, both physical and emotional
- Spiritual issues
- Dealing with guilt in regards to leaving other’s behind after death
- Forgiving or confronting those who are to blame for the mesothelioma diagnosis
Many patients find counseling to be a godsend, so consider partaking of this option, whether you’re the patient or the caregiver. Ask your care team to recommend a counselor or psychologist if you can’t find one on your own and check with your insurance company to determine coverage for this service.