By Alex Strauss
When a loved one is diagnosed with mesothelioma, family members may initially feel powerless to help. Cancer patients themselves often feel isolated by their diagnosis and may even appear to withdraw from family, as they deal with the complex range of emotions and considerations that cancer brings. 

In reality, thought, family and friends are more important than ever during this challenging time in their loved one’s life. 

Managing the maze of mesothelioma diagnosis, treatment planning, and treatment can be overwhelming for even the strongest of patients. Supportive family members can make a difference - and even help make the treatment itself a little easier - by taking some of the common stresses off of their loved one’s shoulders.

What Does a Mesothelioma Patient Need?

People facing a diagnosis of mesothelioma or another type of cancer need many things. Within a short time of receiving their diagnosis, they need to know and understand all of their treatment options. They need to locate the best doctor for their specific situation. After they settle on a course of treatment, a mesothelioma patient may need help managing their appointments, getting to their treatments, and keeping track of their test results. 

In addition, mesothelioma patients and others with cancer may need help with practical issues such as cleaning the house, paying bills, or running errands. And, above all, they need emotional support from their families. Cancer patients need to know they are not going it alone.  Family members can show their support and help their loved one have the best possible outcome by stepping into any or all of these roles. 

Understanding Treatment Options

One of the most important ways that families can help newly diagnosed cancer patients is to research possible treatment options. Especially in rare cancers such as mesothelioma, treatment recommendations are constantly evolving. Many physicians have never even seen a case of mesothelioma. A few hours of Internet research on reputable cancer-specific websites such as can give patients and their families a clearer understanding of what to expect from standard treatments as well as an overview of potential alternatives. 

Even in cases where the prognosis appears grim, a review of can help patients and families find clinical trials of investigational therapies for which their loved one might qualify. Clinical trials are often the most promising choice for rare cancers with few viable treatment options.

It is also critical for patients and their families to devote time to searching for the right doctor, surgeon, and/or hospital - ideally those who have experience treating their particular type of cancer. Even if a patient chooses to stay with their original provider, it is commonplace to seek a second opinion and family members can help make the process easier by creating a list of qualified practitioners in their area.  

Getting Organized

For a patient facing mesothelioma treatment, just getting to and through the therapy may be all-absorbing. In addition, certain cancer drugs and therapies affect memory, attention, and energy, making it difficult for patients to understand and follow their doctor’s advice. Families can free their loved one to focus on healing by taking on some of the responsibility for tracking and documenting appointments, tests, and treatments. 

If a family member accompanies the patient to doctor’s appointments, the National Cancer Institute recommends that they work with the patient to

Make a list of questions before each appointment
Take notes during the visit
Find out who to call with follow-up questions
Keep a file of paperwork and test results and bring to visits
Keep records of all visits, including a list of drugs and tests the patient has had
Keep and bring a record of side effects
Find out who to call in an emergency

Being Supportive

When word gets around of a mesothelioma patient’s diagnosis, friends and neighbors often want to show their support. Unfortunately, gifts and food donations can create a burden on the cancer patient, who may feel bad about not being able to greet or thank well-wishers. Having a family member to serve as a go-between can be invaluable. 

Patients often need extra rest during cancer treatment and appreciate the help of family members to do things like prepare meals, run errands, pay bills, or do light housework. A large family can divide up these tasks, giving everyone a valuable job and an opportunity to feel useful rather than helpless.

Finally, sometimes, what a cancer patient needs most is the company of a caring person. Being available to simply talk or engage in a fun or relaxing activity with a loved one fighting mesothelioma is often the best gift a family member can give.