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Mesothelioma Grief Counseling

Mesothelioma is a devastating diagnosis; the prognosis is often grim, and finding proper treatment can feel overwhelming. Financial concerns are also a burden that make the diagnosis extremely difficult to bear. Grief counseling for mesothelioma patients can be helpful in learning to live with the disease and undergo intense treatments. Grief counseling for friends and family of mesothelioma patients can help loved ones cope with the responsibility of caregiving.

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Mesothelioma Grief Counseling During Treatment

The prognosis for mesothelioma patients is unfortunately bleak, as the cancer is almost always fatal.

Further, mesothelioma treatment often involves invasive surgery combined with chemotherapy or radiation therapy — all of which typically come with uncomfortable or debilitating side effects.

When faced with a mesothelioma diagnosis, patients are likely to go through stages of grieving. While there is not one typical emotional response to a terminal illness, there are some common stages that people tend to move through.

The American Cancer Society says, “experts describe five stages that are usually experienced by adults during the grief process.”

The five stages of grief are:

  • Denial: Often the first stage, denial can go hand-in-hand with shock. Some believe that denial is nature’s way of only letting in what a person can handle at the time.
  • Anger: As reality begins to set in, feelings of frustration and helplessness may turn to anger. This may be especially true for mesothelioma patients who were unknowingly exposed to asbestos.
  • Bargaining: In this stage, many people dwell on the “what ifs.” This can, again, be especially common with mesothelioma patients who wish they would have known about the hazards of asbestos at the time of their exposure.
  • Depression: When patients begin to accept their mesothelioma diagnosis, sadness is likely to occur. This can include crying, sleep disturbances, and decreased appetite.
  • Acceptance: In this stage, patients begin to accept their diagnosis and become better equipped to face the seriousness of the disease.

While these stages are common, they are not linear. In reality, the stages of grief are unpredictable and usually do not follow a specific order. It is likely that mesothelioma patients will move in and out of the stages or skip stages entirely.

Grief Counseling for Mesothelioma Patients

Fortunately, there are a number of mesothelioma grief counseling options.

Finding appropriate grief counseling for mesothelioma patients can be a matter of understanding which symptoms of grief the patient is experiencing.

Some common symptoms of grief include:

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Desire to talk
  • Emotional numbness
  • Fatigue
  • Fear
  • Guilt
  • Loneliness
  • Poor concentration or forgetfulness
  • Sadness

While undergoing treatment, grief counseling for mesothelioma patients can be critical. With proper support, patients tend to have a more positive emotional outlook.

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The following mesothelioma grief counseling options may significantly improve a patient’s quality of life.

Grief Counseling

Grief with any cancer diagnosis is common and can feel like an emotional roller coaster.

During treatment, the loss that a patient experiences can be physical, such as hair loss or extreme weight loss. Grief can also be emotional, such as losing one’s independence.

Many mesothelioma patients also suffer losses that include:

  • Becoming unable to work
  • Being unable to engage in normal activities
  • Having major financial burdens due to treatment

Because so many losses occur throughout the diagnosis and treatment processes, grief counseling for mesothelioma patients can become necessary.

Oncology Social Workers

After diagnosis, doctors may refer mesothelioma patients to a social worker who is often part of the patient’s care team. Social workers help determine whether distress is psychosocial or related to practical problems.

Psychosocial problems experienced by cancer patients may include:

  • Difficulty adjusting to their diagnosis
  • Social isolation
  • Family conflict
  • Communication issues
  • Difficulty making decisions on future medical care
  • End-of-life issues

On the other hand, a patient’s distress may be related to practical problems, such as daily needs like food and clothing.

Practical problems experienced by cancer patients may include:

  • Concerns over how to get to treatment, where to stay for overnight hospital visits, etc.
  • Financial concerns
  • Job concerns
  • Food preparation and costs
  • Assistance with daily activities
  • Locating help for family members and caregivers

Oncology social workers tend to know a great deal about mesothelioma grief counseling resources in the community. They can inform mesothelioma patients of nearby resources to help them cope with these psychosocial and practical issues.

Mental Health Services

Grief counseling for mesothelioma patients may be more clinical in nature than what social workers can typically offer.

In these instances, mental health services provided by psychologists, psychiatric nurses, psychiatric social workers, or psychiatrists may be needed to help mesothelioma patients cope.

Some problems mesothelioma patients may experience that would be best handled by a mental health professional include:

  • Major depression
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Personality disorders
  • Substance abuse

Mental health professionals start by helping mesothelioma patients figure out what has worked well for them in the past, in terms of mental health issues. They also help patients strengthen existing coping skills and understand how past problems may be making it more difficult to deal with a mesothelioma diagnosis.

Pastoral Services

When faced with end-of-life concerns, many patients prefer talking with a person from a spiritual group instead of or in addition to seeking mesothelioma grief counseling.

Pastoral services can be especially important when a diagnosis leads to a crisis of faith. Some patients may wonder why they got cancer or feel like they are being punished or abandoned by a higher power.

In these cases, pastoral services may be more appropriate than mesothelioma grief counseling by helping patients sort through these questions. Fortunately, it is common for clergy to have training in helping people with cancer.

Grief Counseling for Friends and Family of Mesothelioma Patients

A mesothelioma diagnosis is a devastating blow for loved ones. For this reason, grief counseling for friends and family of mesothelioma patients may also be needed.

Grief During Treatment

While their loved one is undergoing treatment, friends and family may experience “anticipatory grief.” This can cause anxiety, dread, or sadness as they wait for their loved one’s passing.

Further, caregivers may feel a sense of longing for their independence and freedom as more and more of their time must be spent caring for their loved one. These feelings may then turn to guilt, anger, and resentment.

Some coping techniques include:

  • Be honest about feelings by talking to a therapist or a good friend or by journaling
  • Seek support from those experiencing similar challenges in a support group
  • Find ways to take control, such as becoming knowledgeable about mesothelioma or helping the patient plan ahead
  • Create new memories with the mesothelioma patient
  • Make time for oneself

All in all, it is extremely important to understand that these feelings are normal.

Grief in Losing a Loved One

Grief is a normal reaction to the loss of a loved one. It is not a single instance or a specific time period but rather a process.

The American Cancer Society explains, “grieving includes the entire emotional process of coping with a loss, and it can last a long time.” 

The grief process involves a complex set of emotions, expressions, and actions. Together, these help loved ones come to terms with their loss.

It is important to remember that there is no right way to grieve. Every loss is different, and no two people experience grief in the same way.

Discussing Death With Children

When a child loses a loved one due to mesothelioma, the grieving process should be encouraged. The future mental health of a child depends on experiencing normal grief.

Children typically grieve differently than adults do. Additionally, each child experiences grief in a different way. Children will often feel sad for a short time and then appear to go back to normal life. This may be mistaken for the child being over the loss, but children tend to grieve in spurts that can go on for years.

It is critical that children be carefully monitored and provided with grief counseling for friends and family of mesothelioma patients if needed.

Some ways to help a child through grief include:

  • Keeping an open line of communication
  • Sharing information about the loved one’s life with the child
  • Remaining emotionally healthy
  • Doing everything possible to be a loving family that supports the child

Grief vs Major Depression

Mesothelioma patients and their loved ones will grieve throughout the course of the illness. While there is no right or wrong way to grieve, it is important to watch for signs of complicated grief and major depression.

Some important distinctions include:

  • In grief, painful feelings come in waves but also include positive memories. In major depression, a person’s mood is almost constantly negative.
  • Self-esteem does not usually change in grief, but with major depression, worthlessness and self-loathing are common.

If any of the following symptoms last more than two months after the loss, loved ones should seek help from a medical professional:  

  • Ongoing thoughts of suicide and death
  • Feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness
  • Inability to perform normal tasks and routines
  • Persistent sadness
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Poor concentration
  • Inability to make decisions

A person should get help from a mental health professional or medical doctor right away if they try to hurt themselves or plan to do so.

Mesothelioma Grief Support Resources

Reputable cancer organizations can be extremely helpful in finding resources for mesothelioma grief counseling and grief counseling for friends and family of mesothelioma patients.

Organizations that offer mesothelioma help include:

  • American Cancer Society
  • The American Lung Association
  • The National Cancer Institute

In addition, a patient’s oncologist is often the best place to begin locating grief counseling for mesothelioma patients.

Mesothelioma Support Team
Reviewed by:AnnMarie Rotan, LCSW

Licensed Clinical Social Worker

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

AnnMarie Rotan is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) with over two decades of experience in the health care field — which includes hospital, outpatient clinical, home health, and mental health services. She also brings experience from the classroom as a professor, educating students in social work. Currently, she is an independent contractor for a home health agency, hospital, and teletherapy provider.

Stephanie KiddWritten by:


Stephanie Kidd grew up in a family of civil servants, blue-collar workers, and medical caregivers. Upon graduating Summa Cum Laude from Stetson University, she began her career specializing in worker safety regulations and communications. Now, a proud member of the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) and Editor-in-Chief of the Mesothelioma Justice Network, Stephanie serves as a voice for mesothelioma victims and their families.

View 6 Sources
  1. American Cancer Society. “Coping with the Loss of a Loved One.” Retrieved from Accessed on January 23, 2020.
  2. American Cancer Society. “Children and Cancer.” Retrieved from Accessed on January 23, 2020.
  3. American Psychiatric Association. “Major Depressive Disorder and the ‘Bereavement Exclusion’.” Accessed on January 23, 2020.
  4. Psychology Today. (August 7, 2017). “30 Reasons Why You May Need a Grief Therapist.” Accessed on January 23, 2020.
  5. UPMC Health Beat. (October 5, 2016). “Grief and Cancer: Ways to Cope with Loss.” Accessed on January 23, 2020.
  6. WebMD. “Feeling Grief and Loss While You’re a Caregiver.” Retrieved from Accessed on January 23, 2020.
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