By Katherine Keys
A mesothelioma diagnosis can be difficult for everyone involved. This is particularly true for caregivers, who are bound to face challenges while providing a priceless service for their loved one. Being the primary caregiver for someone with cancer, particularly mesothelioma, is not an easy task and can take its toll, so caregivers should prepare themselves for what lies ahead.
Mesothelioma is a unique type of cancer. It is rare and much more aggressive than other types of cancer; veterans are believed to make up approximately 30 percent of those diagnosed. The most common form, pleural mesothelioma, attacks the tissue surrounding the lungs, and this leads to symptoms like shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, and a persistent cough. As mesothelioma develops and spreads, which happens rapidly, these symptoms quickly get worse. They can severely limit mobility, requiring a great deal of physical work on the part of the caregiver. Someone in the later stages of mesothelioma may need help getting around, bathing, and even just getting out of bed.
The daily tasks associated with caring for someone who has been diagnosed with mesothelioma can be overwhelming. Along with the day-to-day scheduling of appointments, managing medications, personal care and nutritional needs, caregivers must deal with the patient’s financial and legal affairs. The amount of paperwork can be daunting. And knowing that a loved one faces a poor prognosis can place a tremendous strain on a caregiver’s physical and emotional health. It’s completely normal for the caregiver to occasionally feel frustrated, exhausted or depressed.
Caregivers must learn to take care of themselves. One of the common mistakes that caregivers make is to skimp on the time required for their own personal needs. While it may seem selfish, it is critical that caregivers stay as healthy as possible. The reason is that the level of care they provide is often in direct proportion to how well the caregiver feels. Restful sleep is an essential element to staying healthy and alert. Eating a well-balanced diet provides the vitamins, minerals and micronutrients that help ward off illness. Caregivers can also combat stress with regular exercise.
Caregivers should not be afraid to ask for help and take advantage of any available programs. These include the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993, which provides certain caregivers up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off to care for loved ones without the fear of losing their job. If finances are tight, they may be eligible for benefits from asbestos trust funds that have been established.
These trust funds are designed to provide just compensation for sufferers of mesothelioma. Support groups have also been created to help relieve some of the pressure. Home health agencies, such as Visiting Nurses, can provide much-needed support to caregivers who feel overextended.
State and local governments usually have elder care advocacy agencies, as well. It is vital that caregivers make the time to support themselves and take care of their own needs as they attempt to care for their loved one.
When someone is diagnosed with any kind of cancer, providing care often falls on the shoulders of a family member or a close friend. Reaching out for help when needed goes a long way to ensuring that the patient and the caregiver have the best quality of life possible.
Katherine Keys is an Outreach Specialist with the Mesothelioma Lawyer Center. The Houston, Texas-based organization provides advocacy and resources to those facing the disease.