My uncle was diagnosed with mesothelioma last week. Fit, youthful and full of energy. Just slightly short of breath. And after the disbelief, I find that I am angry. And I am surprised it is not with the makers of the asbestos. It is instead with his doctors. Because when he asked if he had ten years, his respiratory physician said ‘no’. And then other doctors told him he had perhaps one year, maybe two. And couldn’t even look him in the eye. I ask you, what crystal ball do they have that we do not? Get another doctor I said.

Why crush a human spirit that is struggling to live through this diagnosis? Would it not be better to be more accurate when asked about life expectancy? Give some hope. ‘I honestly don’t know how long you’ve got, we don’t know how long any of us will live’ would be a good place to start. That’s the nature of being human, isn’t it. None of us know how long we’ve got. ‘Some people with this diagnosis live only a short time, while others live much longer’. An honest answer that gives the opportunity for hope. Because we are dealing with people, individuals, not statistics. And individuals vary so much. That’s how they get the statistics in the first place isn’t it. Because we are all so different.

I have lost count of the number of times I have heard of people given only a small number of months or years to live, who have outlived all expectations. Because they have something or someone to live for, because they have a different genetic make up, because they make different treatment decisions, because they add in complementary therapies, because they won’t take no for an answer.  To tell someone they have only x years to live, seems little more than the very essence of witch doctoring itself. Which is strange for doctors who pride themselves on their science, isn’t it. For if entranced by the doctors words, what choice does a person have except to give up and die? If only they realised how many people give up when the doctor conveys no hope. And sending ourselves a message of ‘no hope’ just seems to shut things down all the more quickly.

But isn’t it incredible how life gives you just what you need, when you need it most? Only 18 hours before I heard of my uncle’s diagnosis I was lunching with a friend. And out of the blue she told me a story about someone she knows who has been living with mesothelioma for ten years now. And he has a real purpose for living. So living he is, despite his diagnosis. And with the power in this knowledge, I was so relieved to be able to arrange for my uncle to chat with him. To counteract the sentence just delivered. Because knowing someone else has done it, means it’s possible, doesn’t it. And hope is one of the strongest life-supporting emotions we have…

It only takes one person doesn’t it, to help us see what’s possible…

Henry Ford once said ‘If you believe you can, or you can’t, you are right.’ Thomas Edison did not give up until he gave us the electric light bulb, Henry Ford persisted until he found a way to produce affordable cars and the Wright Brothers (okay, there were two of them) gave us flight when some people said it couldn’t be done. And what did they have in common? They were ordinary human beings who all believed something was possible and took action to make it happen. It pays to be optimistic, doesn’t it?! There’s always a first time for everything.

When I was initially diagnosed with cancer, I went through the feelings that most people do, facing my mortality as my life flashed before me. And then I remembered something I was taught 20 years ago, that if one person can do something, others can too. And so I began to look for women who had experienced a breast cancer similar to mine and were alive and well 20-30 years later. I read their stories, I listened to their wisdom and I took action. I built a collage in my mind of the possibility for healing, so I knew where to aim. I even popped a picture of myself up in the kitchen with a heart around it and 100% healed written in big red letters across it to remind myself at a subconscious level of where I was headed. I set my course, and every day as I looked at that photo I gave myself hope. I knew, because others had done it before me, that all things were possible. It was as if they were lighting the way.

And it’s the same with other types of cancer and illnesses too, isn’t it?. Where one person can do it, there must be a way that others can too. Recently I read a story about Carol in Connections, The Quest for Life newsletter (Summer 2012). Five years ago Carol was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a cancer caused by asbestos. And despite a prognosis of 6-9 months, here she is today alive and in good health, despite the cancer, and most importantly, enjoying her life. And she too has used a complement of healing approaches. Not just the chemo, but her mindset, nutrition and emotional healing have all been involved.  It makes you wonder, doesn’t it?. I remembered Carol’s story when the Mesothelioma Centre contacted me to ask if I would include some information in my blog about the benefits of complementary approaches for people with mesothelioma.

May it shine a light for you…

Complementary Treatment for Mesothelioma Patients

Chemotherapy is a very powerful mesothelioma treatment. It can help kill cancerous cells and relieve symptoms caused by the pressure mesothelioma tumors place on the lungs.

However, chemotherapy is not always effective when used alone to treat mesothelioma. Many patients turn to complementary treatment methods to enhance their body’s response to chemotherapy.

Common Complementary Mesothelioma Therapies

A number of alternative therapies have been developed that treat mesothelioma outside of traditional medicine. These therapies may also be used in addition to conventional treatments, in which case they are referred to as complementary therapies.

This approach can also be termed “integrative medicine.”  

Some of the most popular complementary cancer treatment options include:

  • Supplements (i.e. vitamin C, cat’s claw and astragalus)
  • Acupuncture
  • Dietary changes (i.e. vegetarianism or veganism)
  • Homeopathic medicine
  • Massage
  • Meditation and yoga

Some of these therapies are used as a gentler way to reduce symptoms associated with the cancer, thereby eliminating a patient’s need for pharmaceuticals. Massage may help relieve mesothelioma pain that would otherwise be treated with a painkiller, while yoga and meditation can help reduce the need for an anti-anxiety medication.

Other mind-body approaches to mesothelioma treatment can include Tai Chi, hypnotherapy, deep breathing and guided imagery.

Other complementary therapies are used more specifically to enhance the body’s ability to fight off the cancer. Nutritional changes, which focus primarily on a mineral- and vitamin-rich diet, can support the body’s own cancer-fighting abilities, and supplements can be used to boost the immune system or strengthen the body as a whole. Natural products and homeopathic remedies may also be recommended to mesothelioma patients looking for an alternative approach to cancer treatment.

Precautions for Complementary Therapy

Patients who are interested in adding complementary therapies to their treatment regimen should first discuss their options with their doctor.

While alternative therapies used alongside chemotherapy are generally safe, some activities may not be safe for all people. Additionally, certain supplements may interfere with the efficacy of chemotherapy drugs (such as vitamin C). To prevent any potentially negative interactions from occurring, be sure to discuss any dietary or lifestyle changes with your oncologist.

Author bio: Faith Franz is a writer for the Mesothelioma Center. She combines her interests in whole-body health and medical research to educate the mesothelioma community about the newest developments in cancer care.

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