Mesothelioma patients and their families can reduce their stress and feel more supported by getting involved in an online community. That is the conclusion reached by researchers at in the Psychology Department at Southern Cross University in New South Wales, Australia.
Writing in the Journal of Psychosocial Oncology, lecturer Desiree Kozlowski and her colleagues reported on the first 30 days of a peer-to-peer virtual community of people with asbestos-related illnesses like mesothelioma. In the introduction to their report, the team observes that people with mesothelioma, a rare but aggressive lung-related cancer, often feel socially isolated and highly stressed by their life-limiting symptoms.
In addition to coping with the challenges of mesothelioma diagnosis and treatment, patients who were negligently exposed to asbestos are often simultaneously dealing with the legal system. Without adequate support, the researchers say these combined stressors can be physically and psychologically damaging for both patients and families.
“Increasing social connectedness can lead to increased feelings of personal empowerment and may inhibit chronic stress responses,” writes lead author Professor Kozlowski in the report entitled “Dusted Community: Piloting a virtual peer-to-peer support community for people with an asbestos-related diagnosis and their families”.
The virtual mesothelioma community was developed “via a process of participatory action research” and included both patients with mesothelioma and family members involved in their care. “Initial indications are that individuals with an asbestos-related diagnosis and their carers can benefit, in psychosocial terms, from membership in an on-line support group comprised of experientially similar others,” concludes the report.
An estimated 2,500 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year, making it one of the rarest cancers. Although treatment options have improved in recent years, there is still no cure for mesothelioma.
Kozlowski, D et al, “Dusted Community: Piloting a virtual peer-to-peer support community for people with an asbestos-related diagnosis and their families”, May 2, 2014, Journal of Psychosocial Oncology, Epub ahead of print