A study of more than 400 patients and their families shows that people coping with cancers such as malignant mesothelioma do better when their medical caregivers show them kindness.
The study was originally published in the Journal of Oncology Practice and identifies six specific types of kindness that can help to ease the pain and challenges of mesothelioma treatment.
High Tech Must Be Balanced by “High Touch”
In the introduction to the report, Dr. Leonard Berry, a University Distinguished Professor of Marketing at Texas A&M University, says high tech therapies for mesothelioma and other cancers should be balanced by “high touch” from caregivers.
“Simple kindness can help to diffuse negative emotions that are associated with cancer diagnosis and treatment—and may even help to improve patients’ outcomes,” he writes.
Receiving a diagnosis of mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer that is highly resistant to standard therapies, can be especially devastating to patients and families, most of whom had no idea they were ill until the cancer was in an advanced stage.
Previous studies have shown that malignant mesothelioma in particular can bring up feelings of guilt and shame because it is almost always caused by avoidable asbestos exposure. Even when patients did not know they were being exposed or were not made aware of the risks, it is common for them to imagine that they “might have done something differently” to avoid their mesothelioma.
Six Types of Kindness for People in Mesothelioma Treatment
Malignant mesothelioma tends to grow and spread quickly after diagnosis, making compassionate care crucial from the very first appointment.
In the study “Role of Kindness in Cancer Care”, Dr. Berry and his colleagues say kindness in cancer care is about more than a smile or a touch. Even the amount of time it takes doctors to get back to cancer patients matters.
Berry and his colleagues propose six ways in which caregivers may be able to help ease of the pain for mesothelioma patients and others on their cancer journeys.
- Deep Listening – When mesothelioma patients feel heard, they feel understood. In addition, caregivers can offer better care when they truly understand the patient’s needs and concerns.
- Empathy – Mesothelioma doctors and nurses should attempt to imagine themselves in the patient’s situation to more fully appreciate and alleviate suffering.
- Acts of Kindness – These can include simple helpful acts, such as offering a foot massage during mesothelioma chemotherapy or taking the time to teach a mesothelioma patient or family members how to properly use their chest drain.
- Timely care – For patients with aggressive cancers like malignant mesothelioma, waiting for test results or for treatment can be excruciating. Dr. Berry urges providers to offer care in a timely manner to reduce stress and anxiety.
- Gentle Honesty – The Texas A&M study found that patients with mesothelioma and other cancers prefer their doctors to be honest about their prognosis, but to temper that honestly with hope and gentleness.
- Support for family caregivers – Mesothelioma patients often depend heavily on their family members for care, making the health and mental well-being of those family members a vital part of their care and prognosis.
In conclusion, Dr. Berry offers these words of advice for mesothelioma caregivers and others who care for people with cancer:
“These mutually reinforcing manifestations of kindness—exhibited by self-aware clinicians who understand that how care is delivered matters—constitute a powerful and practical way to temper the emotional turmoil of cancer for patients, their families, and clinicians themselves,” he writes.
Berry, Leonard, et al, “Role of Kindness in Cancer Care”, November 2017, Journal of Oncology Practice
Berry, Leonard, “How kindness can make a difference in cancer care”, February 1, 2018, The Conversation