Being diagnosed with mesothelioma is one of the biggest obstacles that you or your loved ones will ever go up against. It’s common to feel overwhelmed by the seriousness of the illness. Treatment for mesothelioma is almost always intensive and time-consuming. Many people discover their lives are suddenly upside down and their priorities changed.
Despite the overwhelming nature of a mesothelioma diagnosis, you should remember that resources exist to help with every facet of your care. If you have a loved one who has received a cancer diagnosis, you likely understand that it often takes a village to help a person respond to cancer or mesothelioma diagnosis. This article reviews just some of the healthcare providers and other resources that you will likely want to make sure is on your mesothelioma team.
Your Role as the Patient
While it might not seem like it, you play the most important role on your team as the patient. It’s important to do everything possible to gather all available information about your specific situation as well as to research your situation and ask questions. What follows are some of the best ways possible to maximize the time that you spend with the other medical professionals who make up your medical team:
- After you learn the day and time of your appointment, you should begin writing a list of questions that you’d like to ask members of your mesothelioma care team. While these questions might be about mesothelioma, they also might be about test results or the nature of treatment that you are receiving.
- You should write down any symptoms you experience to ensure they are addressed. If you do not understand something, you should make sure to request that it is explained in more basic terms. You should avoid being embarrassed to request explanations for any issues about which you are uncertain.
- If at all feasible, you should bring along another individual who can write down notes.
- Request any written materials or documents regarding medical treatment or care decisions. This information can help to inform you about various things including pain management, nutrition, and support groups.
Medical Professionals On Your Team
Mesothelioma patients routinely have teams of various health professionals including nurses, physicians, social workers, dietician, psychiatrists, psychologists, and pharmacists. Consider some of the following details about the various medical professionals on your team:
- Dietitians. Dietician play a critical role in helping people with eating problems experienced as a result of either mesothelioma or treatments that the person takes. Dietician can also inform patients about the value of food as well as suggest ways for a patient to achieve nutrient needs if the person is having difficulty consuming food.
- Doctors. Most cancer patients will have multiple doctors on their team. You will likely see one doctor, though, more often than the others. This doctor will be the leader of your physicians and will bear responsibility for coordinating with other members of your team concerning the level of treatment you receive. You should make sure that your doctor knows about how you are feeling at all times so that they can take all necessary steps.
- Fellow in medical oncology, surgical, or radiation oncology. A qualified physician who is now in training to focus on surgery, radiation, or medical oncology is a fellow. When you first receive the treatment you might be seen by a fellow who will discuss his findings with the attending physician. Mesothelioma experts often have fellows assigned to them so that they can train.
- Nurses. You will likely see nurses more than any other type of medical professional during treatment. If you are hospitalized at any point in your journey, nurses will routinely check on your progress. If you are at home, nurses might stop by your residence to provide treatment. Nurses can provide support, and care, and might even be able to suggest ways to approach your situation with your loved ones.
- Nurse practitioners and physician assistants. A registered nurse receives additional clinical and educational training that enables them to work in close collaboration with certain members of the team in addition to performing as a liaison between the various medical staff on your team. Both nurse practitioners and physician assistants will attend to you in the clinic and work closely with your medical team. Both nurse practitioners and physician assistants can prescribe medication and help in maintaining the necessary level of care.
- Pharmacists. Pharmacists bear the responsibility of filing drug prescriptions and are also available to address questions about how drugs work as well as how often a person should take medication and what side effects a person might experience. Pharmacists can also warn about the potential dangers of combining drugs with certain foods or alcohol.
- Psychologists. Psychologists can help you by discussing with you and your loved ones any worries you have about your situation. Psychologists can also teach you ways of coping with your concern. Similar to psychologists, psychiatrists are medical doctors who can handle serious medical disorders and who are qualified to prescribe drugs for these disorders.
- Research nurse. A nurse whose central responsibility is protecting study participants and making sure that research projects are carried out following the plan approved by the International Review Board. A research nurse will work in tandem with your physician to help receive critical data to make sure that this will form the basis of academic publications and result in the development of new treatments for mesothelioma and other illnesses. Various laboratories throughout the country including the Dana-Farber Brigham Center are dedicated to discovering breakthroughs in how to treat mesothelioma. As part of these efforts, the facility is actively pursuing new clinical trials for people with mesothelioma. Clinical trials are a critical part of the cancer research process that helps investigators determine if new cancer treatments are safe and effective or an improvement on standard treatment. Many of today’s treatments used to treat mesothelioma are the result of results from previous clinical trials. While some trials are meant for people with mesothelioma, others involve people who have not yet received treatment for mesothelioma of any kind.
- Social workers. Social workers help patients and their families meet daily living needs. Social workers can help you discover both what is as well as is not covered by the terms of your health insurance. Social workers can also help you locate support groups.
The Types of Mesothelioma Doctors
Various types of physicians help people navigate the diagnosis of mesothelioma. Some of the most common types of doctors that help people address mesothelioma include:
- Dieticians. A dietician focuses on the nutrition requirements as well as dietary challenges faced by cancer patients. Mesothelioma patients sometimes face various challenges with their diet during treatment including mouth sores and nausea. Dieticians who focus on helping people with mesothelioma receive advanced education and training to become specialized being just nutritionists. Registered dieticians work in conjunction with a multidisciplinary team to create a unique strategy for people with mesothelioma to make sure that they receive adequate nutrition.
- Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine. Osteopathic physicians proceed through the same licensing, training, and certification as medical physicians. Osteopathic physicians, however, also receive additional training in osteopathic medicine that focuses on the musculoskeletal system’s health. These physicians take a more holistic approach to health care and promote preventative medicine. Doctors of osteopathic medicine who are trained in mesothelioma are rare. Patients have worked with these physicians successfully in areas like oncology, pulmonology, and surgery.
- Medical oncologists. A physician who spends additional time training to help patients with cancer can become a medical oncologist. Medical oncologists are routinely certified in oncology, which involves substantial clinical training as well as a written exam for certification. One of the most common types of medications administered by clinical oncologists is chemotherapy, which is a treatment for cancer that relies on drugs to stop cancer cells from growing. Chemotherapy is routinely part of a strategy designed to control mesothelioma with the focus of increasing life quality. For people with mesothelioma, chemotherapy is often administered through a person’s veins or during surgery. The selection of mediations that will be given is influenced by each person’s requirements. Many chemotherapies used to treat mesothelioma are provided in combination with a schedule of vitamins that reduces toxicity and increases effectiveness. Oncologists call on their experience to decide the right plan of care for a patient. During the initial meeting, an oncologist will address what symptoms you are experiencing. An oncologist will also schedule meetings with support services. Compared to general oncologists, mesothelioma oncologists understand the unique nature of the disease including pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma. Physicians who focus on pleural mesothelioma have thoracic oncology or surgical experience focused on chest cancer. Mesothelioma experts often work in conjunction with experts including pathologists and radiation oncologists. The benefit of this strategy is that patients receive care from multiple specialists who are experienced in treating mesothelioma.
- General and thoracic surgeons. A surgeon with thoracic training performs operations on the heart, lungs, diaphragm, and esophagus. If a mesothelioma patient has cancer in its final stages, that individual will not be a candidate to receive major surgery. An experienced surgeon can help mesothelioma patients increase their life expectancy by several years provided cancer does not spread. People with mesothelioma of the peritoneal kind might have a surgeon in their care team because few medical experts focus on peritoneal surgery. Surgeons of this kind focus on oncology. These surgeons also have a background in treating cancer through removal during surgery. Mesothelioma is unique, which is why it’s a good idea to request a surgeon’s help with the condition.
- Radiation oncologists and radiologists. A radiation oncologist contributes to the creation of a radiation strategy for patients with cancer. The goal of radiation is to reduce tumors while not injuring the surrounding cells. These medical professionals decide on the necessary method for radiation delivery as well as the appropriate dosages. Radiologists conduct diagnostic imaging. Whether it’s MRIs, CT Scans, or X-rays, these scans can show the presence of tumors in a person’s body. Imaging looks for monitor tumors to distinguish if they are getting smaller or increasing in size.
- Pulmonologists. Pulmonologists are experts in diseases of the lung and play a role in the diagnosing and treating people with pleural mesothelioma. Pulmonologists also must distinguish abnormalities located in a person’s lungs. Pulmonologists can conduct medical procedures with a bronchoscope, a type of camera used to examine the lungs and locate any legions deemed suspicious. Another function that pulmonologists play is working in combination with patients to better the patient’s quality of life as well as strengthen the patient’s lungs and make up for any lung function that has been lost.
- Palliative care specialists. Specialists who are trained in palliative care help to control symptoms in people with cancer as well as improve the patient’s life conditions. Medical professionals appreciate how to address pain associated with cancer as well as the side effects associated with treatment. In some situations, patients start palliative treatment in addition to initial cancer to decrease the potential for adverse side effects. Teaming up with palliative care professionals help people with mesothelioma recover from injuries associated with cancer as well as unexpected health crises. Reducing the hardships of cancer and its treatment on the body helps individuals live longer lives.
- Pathologists. Pathologists are medical specialists who examine biopsied tissue with the help of a microscope to make a diagnosis of mesothelioma. Pathologists are not the medical professionals who obtain biopsy samples, though. A general surgeon or specialized pulmonologist routinely performs a biopsy procedure. Pathologists are then tasked with assessing whether a patient has mesothelioma or another type of cancer. Pathologists also decide on the cancer stage and type of cells located in a patient’s tumor which ends up influencing both mesothelioma prognosis and treatment type.
- Surgical oncologists. Surgeons who focus on operating on people with cancer are surgical oncologists. To receive this type of education, a person must proceed through a surgical fellowship as well as an additional three years of training after receipt of a general surgical fellowship. Some surgical oncologists are listed as thoracic surgeons, cardiothoracic surgeons, or peritoneal surgeons.
- Radiation oncology. A physician who focuses on providing radiation therapy to people with cancer is a radiation oncologist. Radiation oncologists must receive board certification as well as additional training. Many types of radiation therapy work in combination with chemotherapy and surgical options. The precise timing when radiation is used must be coordinated with other medical professionals on your team.
The Way a Multidisciplinary Team Handles Patients
A multidisciplinary team refers to physicians from various medical backgrounds including oncology, surgery, and radiology. Multidisciplinary teams work together and utilize their perspective to consider diagnosis as well as available treatment strategies for each patient. Oncologists might now know if surgery is an available option until their first conversation with a mesothelioma surgeon.
The country’s best mesothelioma centers have established multidisciplinary teams to treat this cancer through the use of a multimodal approach. Multimodal therapy to treat mesothelioma involves the combination of two or more treatment strategies including chemotherapy and surgery to fight cancer. Utilizing various methods to treat mesothelioma results in fewer ways for cancer to elude medication or come back after treatment has finished.
Based on the first recommended path for treatment, a patient’s medical oncologist or surgeon might take the role of coordinating care. The person’s lead in each patient’s case is influenced by the method of primary treatment. This lead will oversee the administration of your plan to make sure that you receive the best treatment possible.
If the primary treatment chosen is either chemotherapy or immunotherapy, the teamer leader will most likely be an oncologist. If a patient is eligible for a substantial medical procedure, the team leader might be a surgeon. The team leader might be influenced by which physicians have interacted most with the patient.
People Who Can Help You Cope with a Mesothelioma Diagnosis
You’ve likely always taken care of yourself. As a result, you will likely find it challenging to ask for help now that you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma. Some of the other important people on your team who can help you navigate a mesothelioma diagnosis include:
- Family and friends. Family and loved ones can help you in various ways. These people can listen to your various concerns as well as help with daily living activities, come with you to doctor appointments, and sometimes even just keep your company.
- Cancer support groups. You will likely not find a support group that is just for mesothelioma survivors, but a cancer support group can be helpful. These groups can allow you to speak with others facing similar problems and will make you feel less lonely. Support groups are an excellent place to share tips. In some groups, patients meet in one group while their loved ones participate in another group.
- Clergy. Many people discover that during the hardship of mesothelioma, their faith becomes a great source of comfort. These people often find that facing a serious illness changes their values and that daily possessions and schedules seem less important. Meanwhile, helping loved ones and the disadvantaged often becomes more important.