Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer caused by a long-term exposure to asbestos, presenting common and unique challenges for a caregiver.

There is no definitive cure for mesothelioma, but recent therapeutic advancements can overcome the gloom-and-doom prognosis that once accompanied a diagnosis.

Mesothelioma most commonly starts in the thin membrane surrounding the lungs, and typical symptoms include a shortness of breath, pain in the chest, and a dry hacking cough.

As the cancer progresses, a caregiver’s role will become increasingly important and more demanding.

5 Tips to Help a Caregiver

1. Educate yourself about this cancer.

  • Knowledge is helpful and can be a powerful tool. Mesothelioma is not lung cancer, and it presents different problems.
  • Understanding the cancer will help you cope with problems that will arise. It will help you discuss potential treatments and symptoms with your doctor.
  • You can also email The Mesothelioma Center or call its Patient Advocates to ask questions that will be answered. There is a doctor and registered nurse on staff.

2. Ask for help.

  • Although some caregivers — particularly a spouse — want to be there every step of the way and attend to every need of a patient, that’s not always best.
  • You can wear yourself out if you try and go this alone. And that will actually hurt the care you give. Let other family members help. Allow friends or neighbors to help with chores and sit with the patient while you take some time off.
  • A rested caregiver can give the best care. Take care of yourself, and don’t let yourself get worn down by the task of being a caregiver.

3. Join a support group.

  • Doctors and nurses deal with disease every day, but they don't deal with mesothelioma on a daily basis.
  • Doctors and nurses don’t live with it around the clock as mesothelioma patients and their families do. Talking with others who are dealing with the same disease can be a valuable resource. They will better understand what you are going through. This is especially true with a rare disease such as mesothelioma. It will help you avoid feeling isolated and overwhelmed. The Mesothelioma Center can connect you with others and help you find a support group that meets regularly by phone or in person.

4. Bring a positive attitude.

  • Providing emotional support can be as important as physical support.
  • There will be good days and bad days for the patient with plenty of ups and downs, regardless of the cancer’s stage. The caregiver should be a steadying force. Being a good listener is key. Even simple companionship will be critical for the patient. Provide hope for the patient and encourage other friends and relatives who visit to come with a positive attitude.

5. Help make decisions.

  • Even an independent patient is going to need help sorting out various things.
  • There are treatment options, health insurance, financial decisions, and occasionally legal issues to face. There also will be end-of-life decisions to make. In earlier stages, there are medications and doctor appointments to manage.
  • A caregiver often becomes a source for the medical team to lean on, providing details that a patient may not remember.

--Tim Povtak is a content writer for The Mesothelioma Center and Asbestos.com, an informational source for mesothelioma patients and families.