What to Expect in Mesothelioma Post-Treatment Care
Recovering from cancer treatment can be challenging, especially for patients whose immune system has been compromised from chemotherapy treatment. Post-treatment care and life changes can improve the quality of life and make the transition into survivorship smoother.
After standard mesothelioma treatment, which typically includes a combination of treatments, your doctor will discuss a follow-up care plan. The plan includes information on what to expect after your treatment ends and what forms of recommended follow-up care you may need.
Follow-up cancer care can be discussed by the doctor who treated you for cancer, or another health care provider. Each healthcare provider you may have, however, should be updated on any changes with your care. Treatment and care aren’t always communicated between each doctor. Patients may speak with a case manager – available at most healthcare facilities – to act as a liaison between the rehabilitation team, the insurance company, the patient, and the family. They may also be helpful in answering any related questions to ensure you’re getting the best possible care.
As a cancer patient recovering from treatment, you may experience a variety of physical or emotional problems, like pain, fatigue, emotional challenges, and muscle weakness. Your health care team will ask you about your concerns before developing your plan. Not all cancer survivors need professional rehabilitation services, but most will need to improve muscle strength and stamina.
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Types of Post-Care Specialists
Post-care rehabilitation can help cancer patients restore their physical and emotional health. Rehabilitation can even help people with cancer recover sooner and more fully from cancer treatment. Cancer rehabilitation often requires several types of specialists who work together to form a rehabilitation plan. These specialists may include a:
- Mental health counselor
- Occupational therapist
- Physical therapist
- Case manager
- Registered dietician
- Rehabilitation nurse
- Speech and language pathologist
- Vocational rehabilitation specialist
Physical Therapy and Exercise
Physical therapy is a form of treatment that uses physical methods like exercise, massage, or heat treatment to improve quality of life. For most patients, elevating the heart rate is beneficial in cancer recovery. Mesothelioma and lung cancer patients may learn to breathe better using exercise tools with physical therapists.
Recovering patients can find physical therapy beneficial because it improves blood flow and circulation, bringing extra oxygen to the tissues to heal and regenerate cells. Daily workouts can also improve sleep in cancer patients, allowing the body more time to heal itself.
Your doctor may recommend physical therapy for increasing muscle mass. Mesothelioma treatments like surgery or chemotherapy can affect the organs and tissues like skeletal muscle, fat, and bone mass. Cancer patients need muscle to support their bones and metabolism.
Getting regular exercise may increase the quality of life in several other capacities, including:
- Higher self-esteem
- Improved mood
- Increased strength and endurance
- Less anxiety
- Fewer symptoms of depression
- Lowered risk of recurring cancer
- Reduced fatigue
- Reduced pain
Daily physical activity may be intimidating to some cancer patients and cancer survivors, but taking small steps to be more active can make a big difference. Upon your doctor’s approval, start by taking the stairs more often or parking farther from your destination.
As you recover and adjust to daily exercise, your body will begin to feel better. Yet, resting is just as important as side effects like fatigue and pain may keep you from physical activity. Your body needs to recover, so there is no need to feel guilty for skipping a day.
Mental Health Counseling and Therapy
As a person with cancer, you may feel varying levels of depression, anxiety, or worry. This is normal among patients with cancer, though some may feel these effects more than others. Professional mental health counselors are available to patients feeling any emotional distress throughout the process.
Visiting a mental health counselor can significantly reduce emotional distress. While there’s no evidence that managing stress improves chances of cancer survival, learning to cope with stress can significantly improve your quality of life. Activities that can help you learn tools for managing stress or depression, include:
- Attending cancer support groups
- Interacting with friends and family
- Taking medications for depression or anxiety
- Relaxation or meditation techniques, such as mindfulness training
Mental health counseling is usually available in medical rehabilitation settings. A psychiatrist, psychologist, or clinical social worker may consult with you about your mental health.
How Long Will I Need Rehabilitation Services?
Every person with cancer experiences a different post-treatment care plan. While some patients may not experience as many life-changing side effects as others, improving the quality of life in patients is the goal for most healthcare providers. Patients may participate in various rehabilitation services, whether they are temporary or permanent life changes.
The amount of time rehabilitation treatment is needed depends on the specific side effect and the extent to which it is causing physical or emotional complications. Post-treatment rehabilitation is usually required when an issue begins to disrupt your daily function. Specific issues that can affect the length of rehab include:
- Change in ability to get a good night’s sleep
- How your diet and appetite has changed
- Level of pain and its effect on your ability to function
- New challenges in daily or recreational tasks and activities
- The degree to which you’re are sad, worried, anxious, or depressed
- Your ability to work after treatment
- Your change in activity level
- Fatigue level
- Inability to do things now that you could do before your diagnosis
Generally, some rehabilitation services are only temporary, while life changes (such as exercise and diet) should last your entire life. Consult with your doctor or a member of your cancer care team to determine your specific rehabilitation plan after completing treatment.
Post-Care Life Changes
Though life changes cannot cure cancer, they can significantly help relieve symptoms, reduce stress, improve your quality of life, and possibly improve your prognosis. Following your treatment, your cancer care team will likely suggest different life changes to improve your overall outcome.
Eat a Balanced Diet
Patients with mesothelioma can benefit from eating a balanced diet. Cancer therapy takes a toll on the overall health of the patient. Most mesothelioma patients need to increase protein intake and decrease consumption of processed sugar. High protein foods like nuts, chicken, fish, eggs, beans, seeds, and cheese can help boost the immune system and rebuild damaged tissues.
Too, vitamin-rich fruits and vegetables are part of a healthy diet. Starchy vegetables like potatoes and sweet potatoes are good options for cancer patients. To maintain your weight during treatment, consume healthy fats like olive oil, nuts, avocado, and seafood to supply the body with energy. According to the American Cancer Society, patients can benefit from eating at least 2.5 cups of fruits and vegetables every day.
While recovering from treatment, it’s essential to maintain enough hydration for the body to function properly. Patients may experience dehydration during treatment. It’s recommended patients with mesothelioma drink at least eight glasses of water each day.
Try to avoid vitamin and mineral supplements. The best way to receive proper nutrition is to eat vitamin and mineral-rich whole foods. A registered dietician can help you figure out the best diet throughout your rehabilitation journey to ensure you’re getting the correct amount of nutrients to improve energy and body function. Dieticians can also help you safely gain weight, control your calories, and teach you ways to make food more appealing and easier to eat.
Cancer survivors and patients commonly struggle from sleep problems due to physical changes, side effects of treatment, or stress. Getting enough sleep, however, is essential to recovery. Cognitive skills, hormone function, and blood pressure can improve significantly with enough rest. Patients can improve sleep by making small lifestyle adjustments, including:
- Avoiding caffeine for at least 8 hours before bedtime
- Exercising no later than 2 hours before going to bed
- Keeping your bedroom quiet and dim
- Limiting computer or television screen exposure, especially before bedtime
- Reducing caffeine intake
- Sticking to a regular sleep schedule
Stop Using Tobacco
Tobacco is a carcinogen (i.e., cancer-causing substance) that causes several types of cancer. Mesothelioma patients who smoke cigarettes may experience extremely negative effects on the lungs. Stopping tobacco intake can reduce your risk of cancer recurrence and lower your risk of developing a second form of cancer. Your doctor can provide different resources for help quitting.
Limit or Eliminate Alcohol Consumption
Consuming alcohol can increase your risk for developing certain diseases, generally affecting the mouth, throat, or liver. While the best change involves eliminating it from your diet, you can also benefit from reducing consumption. Healthy adults who drink in moderation typically consume no more than two drinks per day. Talk to your doctor about your specific risks regarding your alcohol consumption.
Next Steps for Patients
It’s important to follow up with your doctor about any side effects you may be experiencing after treatment. It’s important to maintain proper health to reduce chances of the cancer from coming back. To learn more about mesothelioma treatment and ways to improve your health, download our free mesothelioma guide.