A mesothelioma diagnosis is tough on everyone. Obviously it impacts the person diagnosed the most, but it can also be challenging for loved ones. As the spouse of someone going through mesothelioma, you play a special role as comforter, caregiver, and supporter. But knowing how to fulfill each of these roles is often challenging.
Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer that develops in the mesothelial cells, which are found in the protective lining surrounding the body’s internal organs, such as the lungs, heart, and abdomen. This cancer is most commonly associated with asbestos exposure, where tiny asbestos fibers are inhaled or ingested, leading to cellular damage and, eventually, cancerous growth.
There are multiple types of mesothelioma, though the most common is pleural mesothelioma.
“Pleural mesothelioma is a cancer of the pleural cavity, which is a thin membrane between the chest wall and lung cavity. This specific disease makes up approximately 80% of all mesothelioma cases,” MesotheliomaGuide.com explains.
When pleural mesothelioma is malignant, it means it’s cancerous and can spread. The average lifespan of someone with this cancer is 11-20 months, though some can live for multiple years due to certain surgical techniques.
The most common symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include:
- Pain in the lower back or chest
- Shortness of breath
- Unexplained weight loss
- Swelling of the face or arms
- Fluid buildup in the pleural space
- Trouble swallowing
Caring for Your Spouse With Mesothelioma
As a spouse, watching your significant other fight mesothelioma can be incredibly raw and challenging. Here are some suggestions to help you care for them well.
- Build a Supportive Environment
The best thing you can do for your spouse is build a supportive environment so they know people are in their corner. Have open and honest conversations with your spouse about how they’re feeling. Encourage them to share their thoughts, feelings, fears, and concerns. You don’t need to have answers, but you should be a good, attentive listener.
Understand that your spouse will probably experience a range of emotions and sudden mood swings. Don’t take this personally (and do your best not to get frustrated). Encourage healthy expression of these emotions.
- Assist With Daily Activities
Coping with mesothelioma often leads to physical limitations as the cancer progresses into the advanced stages, making routine tasks challenging. As a caregiver, your support is invaluable in helping your spouse maintain a sense of independence and dignity.
Assist your spouse with things like bathing, dressing, and grooming (if necessary). Likewise, stay on top of medication schedules and ensure your spouse takes prescriptions on time. By taking ownership over this, you give your spouse one less thing to worry about.
- Plan Healthy Meals
Healthy diet and proper hydration can go a long way toward helping your spouse feel energized and strong. It can also boost the immune system, which should be fully engaged to fight against the cancer.
Collaborate with a registered dietitian to create a meal plan that aligns with your spouse’s nutritional needs and preferences. Focus on providing a well-balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. Small, frequent meals may be more manageable if appetite is reduced.
If your spouse is struggling to drink enough water, get creative. Offer water, herbal teas, and other hydrating beverages throughout the day. If swallowing difficulties arise due to treatment, consult with a speech therapist for guidance on safe swallowing techniques.
- Provide Emotional Support
Mesothelioma can be a long and arduous journey, often filled with ups and downs. Celebrate even the smallest achievements and milestones along the way, such as completing a round of treatment or managing symptoms effectively. These celebrations can boost your spouse’s morale and provide a sense of accomplishment.
If you ever feel like you’re getting burned out and can’t provide the emotional support that your spouse needs, find someone else to step in for a little while. A respite caregiver – such as a good friend or family member – can help shoulder some of that burden for you when times get tough.
Finding Time for Yourself
While your spouse is obviously your priority during this season, make sure you’re finding some time for yourself. You need some “me time” in order to recharge yourself. At least once per day, find a few minutes to get away from everything and relax. And at least once per week, you should take some extended time away (like an afternoon or night out). This will allow you to be a better caregiver and supporter when you’re needed.