Healing Through Pictures After a Mesothelioma Diagnosis

The old adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” rings true every time I leaf through our family photo albums. It seems looking at old pictures has become a tradition at every family gathering since Dad lost his battle with mesothelioma.

The images take me back in time, recreating fond memories in my mind. My siblings and I use our old photographs to maintain an intimate connection with each other and our father.

I’ve enjoyed snapping and posing for photos for as long as I can remember.

My dad used to snap pictures of me using his old Polaroid camera. I could barely contain myself as he would shake the picture, hastening its development. I think he enjoyed taking the photos as much as I enjoyed being the center of his attention.

I recently attended a lecture on therapeutic photography and PhotoTherapy (not to be confused with photodynamic therapy, a type of targeted cancer treatment). A mental health therapist talked about using photography in a clinical setting and as a means of self-exploration and resolving negative emotions.

I hadn’t realized how therapeutic pictures and photography could be. Similarly, I wasn’t aware taking pictures and viewing photographs were techniques in therapy.

Therapeutic Photography and PhotoTherapy

Judy Weiser is a globally recognized frontrunner in therapeutic photography, PhotoTherapy and many related techniques.

Weiser is the founding director of the PhotoTherapy Centre in Vancouver, Canada. Her informative website illuminates numerous aspects of therapeutic photography and PhotoTherapy. She highlights the similarities and differences between the two.

Therapeutic photography refers to healing activities people engage in outside a clinical setting, without a psychologist or therapist. Therapeutic photography can include taking pictures, posing for pictures, looking through albums and discussing photos.

PhotoTherapy, on the other hand, involves a client and a mental health professional in a clinical setting. Using family photo albums and other personal pictures, a mental health professional can help people reflect on the images and explore their emotions.

Together, the client and therapist can gain insight into any negative feelings and underlying problems that surface when exploring the photos.

Therapeutic Photography for Families Affected by Cancer

Families affected by mesothelioma understand how impactful aggressive cancer can be. The cancer touches every member of the family in one way or another.

My family uses photos to reminisce about the good times we shared together, and the tough times too. Nestled within the pages of our family albums, we find our smiles, strength and courage.

Therapeutic photography may help families by improving communication and strengthening relational bonds. While looking at pictures can be lighthearted and fun, it can also cause powerful emotions to surface. The photos may be reminders of sad or painful experiences, or a lifestyle that is in the past.

If families become overwhelmed by the issues that come to light through their pictures, they can seek assistance from a counselor trained in PhotoTherapy or another helping professional such as a counselor in a support group.

Photo-Related Activities Anyone Can Try

Photography can be both enlightening and enjoyable.

Perhaps the best thing about photography is its inclusivity. People can use any camera available, even an old Polaroid or a cell phone camera. There is no particular training involved. Anyone can participate including friends, siblings, parents, grandparents and children.

  • Backyard photo shoot: Gather the family or snap photos alone — the choice is yours. Grab a few props like hats, glasses or scarves and head on out the door. Even a rainy-day photo shoot is bound to capture some memories.
  • Family photo swap: Plan a small family get-together in which each member brings a photo. Any image will work, like old school pictures, recent family photos, even pictures of beloved pets. Share some old memories while you are making a few new ones.
  • Old album search: Most families have old albums stored in the basement, attic or garage. Bring a few albums out, and leaf through them together. See how many people you recognize, and reminisce about the good old days. Most important, share some memories and laughs.

Families affected by mesothelioma may feel overwhelmed with emotions, treatment options and the need to plan for caregiving and financial needs. It is vital to focus on familial strengths during difficult times.

Therapeutic photography is a powerful way to tap into those strengths and remind family members of their bonds.

I keep a photo of my dad and me taped to my desk. It serves as a reminder that I carry my father’s strength with me. I look at the picture every day, and whenever I have a terrible day, the image makes the most impact.

I can take a moment to gaze into my father’s eyes and almost hear his voice saying, “Don’t give up. I know you can do this.”

Can Turmeric Bring the Fight to Mesothelioma?

When thinking about how to treat mesothelioma cancer, most of us don’t consider the spice rack. Maybe we should — beginning with turmeric.

Turmeric is a deep golden-yellow spice used in Asian and Indian dishes. In addition to its culinary role, turmeric has been used for thousands of years as a traditional medicine.

Research over the past few decades supports turmeric’s anti-cancer activity in the lab. Now, a 2017 study shows turmeric may have anti-cancer activity against mesothelioma cells, too.

This focus on using turmeric against many types of cancer shows the spice may be good medicine indeed.

Turning Turmeric Against Mesothelioma

There are two aspects to the 2017 turmeric and mesothelioma experiment. In both parts, the researchers focused on curcumin, a substance found in abundance in turmeric.

First, they studied how curcumin curbs cell growth in mesothelioma cancer. The researchers found the spice component thwarted mesothelioma by:

  • Increasing the damage due to oxidation in mesothelioma cells — oxidation is one way some treatments kill cancer cells
  • Turning on a type of cancer cell death, called apoptosis, which helps the body combat cancer
  • Improving activity in mesothelioma cells, called autophagy, which is associated with more cancer cell death
  • Turning down the ability of cancer cells to survive when damaged

Next, researchers examined how curcumin protected mice against mesothelioma tumor development. They placed mesothelioma cells into each mouse’s body through the peritoneum.

The peritoneum is the membrane lining the abdominal cavity. It encloses organs, such as the stomach and intestines. Peritoneal mesothelioma is one type of the disease affecting humans.

Half the mice received curcumin dissolved in corn oil in their abdominal cavity along with the mesothelioma cells. The other half received plain corn oil with the cancer cells.

This type of treatment delivery is called intraperitoneal administration. This is similar to how a chemotherapy treatment called HIPEC is delivered. HIPEC can be used to treat peritoneal mesothelioma.

Compared with the mice who received plain corn oil, the mice who received the intraperitoneal curcumin and corn oil mixture:

  • Experienced reduced risk of developing tumors overall
  • Developed fewer tumors
  • Had much smaller tumors
  • Lived significantly longer

The study authors noted this information is important to consider when planning future studies of curcumin to treat mesothelioma.

Animal studies do not prove a treatment is effective in people, and this animal study is no different.

However, it does provide vital clues regarding how a human study with curcumin may need to be designed. Taking turmeric orally may not work, but combining it with other treatments delivered straight to the tumor may improve tumor control.

A Spicy Solution for What Ails You

Turmeric has a savory, warm flavor, and it is a staple of many Asian and Indian recipes, including Indian curry dishes.

For thousands of years, the spice has been used to treat a range of conditions, including intestinal gas, worms, gallstones, arthritis, menstrual problems, cuts, bruises, irritable bowels, skin infections, asthma, diabetes, coughs, colds and sore throats.

Modern medicine has taken notice of turmeric, too. More than 3,000 scientific publications on the spice have been published in the past 25 years. Many have focused on turmeric and cancer.

Factors to Consider When Using Turmeric or Curcumin

Turmeric and curcumin are available as dietary supplements. These substances are generally considered safe for most people.

However, you should not take any dietary supplements or over-the-counter medications without first discussing it with your mesothelioma health care team.

Some dietary supplements can interfere with mesothelioma treatment. Only your oncologist and you, working together, can decide if a supplement is safe for you to use before, during or after treatment.

Supplements can interact negatively with your treatments and other medications. These interactions can worsen side effects or render your medical treatments less effective.

A recent medical paper demonstrates in most cases, it is not a good idea to take alternative medicine in place of conventional treatment options such as surgery, radiation therapy or chemotherapy.

Cancer patients who opt to use alternative medicine in place of conventional therapies have shorter survival compared with patients who do use mainstream treatments.

Finally, the digestive tract does not easily absorb curcumin on its own. Only supplements that help the body absorb curcumin are likely to make their way into your body. When taken by mouth, pure curcumin may not reach your tumor effectively.

Ask for What You Need

If you are being treated at a large cancer center, ask your mesothelioma doctor if there are any supportive therapies available to you through their facility.

You may be able to speak with a dietitian for nutrition consultation, try acupuncture or massage, or pursue other options to manage symptoms and improve your quality of life.

If these services are not available, let your doctor know if you plan to pursue them on your own.

The latest studies on curcumin are promising, though they do not prove the spice can effectively treat mesothelioma. Even knowing this, after a cancer diagnosis many people try this and other complementary therapies such as moringa tree leaves, medical cannabis or herbal remedies.

Be sure to keep all of your health care providers in the loop so you can safely pursue the best treatment course for you.

Discussing Husband’s Mesothelioma Death Eases Emotions

Life as we know it cannot go on forever. This is a given. But how many of us are prepared to talk about our death or that of a loved one?

I found my answer to this question when my 52-year-old husband Brian was diagnosed with mesothelioma. Accepting that he had the asbestos-related cancer was difficult enough. But believing he had less than a year to live was impossible.

After researching mesothelioma online, I had to accept that Brian was going to die of the disease — and soon. Coming to terms with this reality was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life.

As I struggled to control my emotions, I was deeply concerned about Brian’s feelings. How was he coping? Did he believe he was dying? It was a question I dared not ask him. For the first time in our life together, there was an elephant in the room.

Starting the Conversation About Death

With the thought of Brian’s death ever on my mind, I desperately needed to talk about it. The problem was I had no one to talk to. Brian lived in hope of a cure and our three children were not ready to accept that their father was dying.

As wife and mother, I endeavored to remain strong for everyone, but it was incredibly hard to do when I was feeling so broken. At times, the burden of my grief became so overwhelming that I found it difficult to cope with everyday life.

Thankfully, Brian’s sister Pat turned out to be the one person with whom I could unleash my inner turmoil.

Whenever we came together, which was usually once week, we found an opportunity to talk about Brian and how his disease was progressing. I also discussed my fear that I would not be able to cope with watching him die.

Though our conversations always ended with me crying my heart out, the relief that came with it was beyond measure. So too was my gratitude toward Pat, who always rose above her own grief to comfort me.

Brian Was Ready to Talk About Dying

Now that I had addressed Brian’s death with Pat, I felt better able to cope with what lay ahead. But I could not help but wonder how Brian was coping. It had become obvious he was not going to get better.

Did he need to talk about dying? How could I encourage him to do this?

Fortunately, I didn’t have to. Shortly before his courageous battle with mesothelioma came to an end, he began talking about dying. It started with a question: How many Christmases had he celebrated since his diagnosis? It was an especially poignant question because he asked it on Dec. 20, 2001 — just two years after his diagnosis and a few days before Christmas, which had always been his favorite time of year.

Hoping against hope that he’d be with us for Christmas that year, I answered “Three.”

My heart missed a beat when Brian replied, “I don’t think I will be here for another.”

Hearing this, I could have said of course he would, but I realized Brian wanted and needed to talk to me about his death. As sad as the moment was, I was so grateful for it because I knew Brian had accepted his fate and was at peace with it.

Now that I was able to talk to him about my plans for his funeral, I was greatly relieved when he agreed with my decision. Thanks to Pat, who was again there to support me, I decided on a beachside memorial to celebrate his love of the sea. Afterward, we would hold a private cremation only for family members.

Despite the strongest of wills, Brian did not get to celebrate Christmas that year. He died on Christmas Eve, just a few hours short of his favorite day of the year. The pain of losing the beautiful man who had been my husband, lover and best friend for 37 years was deeper than I could have imagined.

But I found peace knowing he was no longer in pain.

Moving on with Life

Grief is a personal journey.

Widowed at 51, I felt like my life was a jigsaw puzzle with half the pieces missing. Over the years, I have put that jigsaw puzzle back together, but it will never be the same.

No matter what happens in my life, I will always love and miss Brian. I know you don’t get over grief. But you learn to live with it, and this is okay.

Knowing I was able to discuss his impending death with his sister and Brian helped me heal and move on with my life.

Exclusive Mesothelioma Nutrition Program Now Available

Did you know an unhealthy diet contributes to approximately 678,000 deaths each year in the U.S. alone?

Throughout March, health organizations and advocacy centers like ours focus on eating right. That’s because March is National Nutrition Month.

This year’s theme is “Go Further with Food,” which is why we are taking this opportunity to share the many ways everyday foods can support mesothelioma patients throughout their road to remission.

Maintaining adequate nutrition is important for everyone, but after a cancer diagnosis, it becomes essential to improve your diet and exercise regimen.

Given the side effects of cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation, it can be challenging for patients to ingest the right amount of nutrients.

Difficulty swallowing, unintended weight loss, painful mouth sores and other problems can keep mesothelioma patients from consuming the nutrients they need to survive. Losing these essential nutrients can greatly reduce a patient’s chance of long-term survival.

Nutrition Guide Offers Recipes, Tips for Patients

The Mesothelioma Center at Asbestos.com recently published “Your Nutrition Guide to Mesothelioma,” a new book designed to help patients diagnosed with this asbestos-related cancer optimize their diet.

We created this guide in partnership with Tejal Parekh, an Orlando-based registered and licensed dietitian specializing in cancer care.

The 70-page nutrition guide includes:

  • Recipes tailored to reduce common side effects of mesothelioma treatments.
  • Tips on preparing meals packed with the nutrients cancer patients need.
  • Valuable information on mesothelioma, changes in dietary needs, importance of nutrition before, during and after treatment, and much more.

“There are three things I tell patients to do to improve their chances of surviving mesothelioma: Exercise, high protein foods and attitude,” said Dr. Jacques Fontaine, a mesothelioma specialist and thoracic surgeon at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida. “It’s very, very important for patients to keep up their nutrition and protein intake.”

Mesothelioma Nutrition Guide

Free Mesothelioma Nutrition Guide

Eating right and balancing your diet while undergoing mesothelioma treatment can help ease your symptoms.

Get Free Recipes & Tips

Introducing New Expert Suzanne Dixon

We also welcomed Suzanne Dixon to our team of cancer experts. Suzanne is a registered and licensed dietitian as well as an epidemiologist.

She will help translate complicated nutrition and medical science into easy-to-understand resources for mesothelioma patients. She will also serve as a resource to media outlets looking for an expert source on cancer and nutrition.

Suzanne managed the outpatient oncology and HIV/AIDS nutrition programs at the University of Michigan Health System. She also helped thousands of people make optimal nutrition and complementary medicine a part of their health care and disease management plans.

With her passion for helping cancer patients get adequate nutrition and her desire to improve nutrition for those living with chronic illnesses, Suzanne is a great fit for our team of Patient Advocates and content experts.

Nutrition Consultations for Mesothelioma Patients

In the next few months, we will debut a new program for mesothelioma patients to improve their health and wellness, including free consultations with a registered and licensed oncology dietitian.

These consultations will provide mesothelioma patients personalized information about balancing their diets, answers to their questions about dietary supplements, and advice on how to consume the nutrients they need, among other helpful resources.

By launching another avenue for mesothelioma patients to seek nutrition help, we can ensure anyone battling mesothelioma has the resources they need to survive this cancer.

As we join hands with organizations around the world working to support optimal nutrition, we’re thankful for those that have helped us make this program happen.

We are dedicated to helping mesothelioma patients with their nutrition needs in order to live a longer, healthier life.

Creating a Natural Healing Space for Mesothelioma

Every year, it seems to happen overnight. The trees start budding, the grass gets greener and flowers begin to peek through the surface of the soil.

Following a long cold winter, Mother Nature has her way of restoring a sense of hope by breathing new life into the world. Spring ushers in a season of renewal and transformation.

Horticulturalists, medical professionals and caregivers have learned to tap into these natural forces. They recognize nature’s healing power can benefit patients undergoing treatment for mesothelioma.

Efforts to include nature in health care settings were first inspired by the work of Robert Ulrich. He is the esteemed co-founder and director of the Center for Health Systems and Design at Texas A&M University.

Ulrich’s landmark research, published in the 1980s, suggested that viewing nature can positively impact patient health and recovery time. His study found that patients who could see nature from their hospital room required shorter recovery times and fewer painkillers after surgery.

Healing Gardens Revolutionize Health Care Facilities

It is now fairly common for health care facilities, hospitals and cancer treatment centers to feature “healing gardens.” These natural therapeutic spaces improve patients’ healthcare experiences and offer families an inviting place to gather.

The American Horticultural Therapy Association has featured healing gardens designed for families dealing with cancer. These gardens increase a patient’s sense of hope, invoke feelings of renewal and promote physical and mental restoration.

A few prominent features of healing gardens designed for cancer patients include:

  • Shaded areas: Many cancer patients become sensitive to sunlight during their chemotherapy treatments. Strategically placed seating in shaded areas provide a place to rest and enjoy the scenery without the risks of sun exposure.
  • Accessibility: Wheelchair accessibility is essential for patients with mobility issues. It is also helpful to have large windows so patients with compromised immune systems can view the gardens from a short distance indoors.
  • Appealing plants: Colorful flowers are visually pleasing, but designers also choose plants with gentle fragrances. Some patients become sensitive to smell as a side effect of their cancer treatment.
  • Water features: Many therapeutic gardens have fountains and ponds that create soothing sounds of water. For many patients, this is a welcome distraction from the normal cacophony of sounds present in hospitals and clinics.

Some facilities also offer acupuncture, creative arts therapy and medical services in their healing gardens.

Health and Social Benefits of Healing Gardens

According to World Health Design, there are numerous benefits to patients and families who spend time in healing gardens.

A cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatments put great stress on patients and their families. Visiting a healing garden that engages the senses often reduces stress to a more manageable level. Lower stress levels are more conducive to the healing process.

Many patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments also experience increased anxiety. Visiting therapeutic gardens can calm fears surrounding treatment. A soothing environment can also distract patients from side effects.

Finally, having a place for patients to visit with their families fosters much-needed social support.

From the Hospital Garden to the Backyard

Patients and their families don’t have to leave the benefits of healing gardens in medical treatment facilities.

With a little imagination, people can recreate a healing garden on their front porch or in their backyard. A natural, therapeutic space doesn’t have to break the bank or anyone’s back.

The internet has no shortage of DIY healing garden tips and how-to videos that provide guidance to the novice gardener. The National Garden Bureau provides several tips that can be easily adjusted for an individual patient:

  • Start small: A healing garden doesn’t have to be a huge, pain-staking building project. Vegetables or flowers planted in simple containers are a good starting point.
  • Choose plants you’ll enjoy: For those seeking visual appeal, planting colorful flowers might be the best choice. Others may plant vegetables they enjoy eating. Herbs and other fragrant plants are a good choice for natural aromatherapy.
  • Add a birdfeeder: A birdhouse or birdfeeder can entice birds to come for the food and stay for your viewing satisfaction. Bird watching can be a soothing distraction from the hustle and bustle of daily life.
  • Create pleasing sound features: Many people find a small water fountain or wind chime to be a relaxing addition. Hearing water trickle or a gentle chime may also aid in meditation.

No matter how big or small the natural space, adding a few plants can make a huge difference.

There is a reason we send flowers to others as a gesture of love or celebration. People find pleasure in them, and the blossoms of spring promote overall well-being.

Study Used Mistletoe, Winter Rose in Mesothelioma Treatment

If you have received a mesothelioma diagnosis, you’re likely exploring every treatment option. For some patients, this includes complementary and alternative medicine such as nutrition, herbs and acupuncture.

There are many mainstream mesothelioma treatments, too, such as surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Unfortunately, none of these regimens is expected to cure mesothelioma for most patients.

For one woman, two holiday plants helped her take control after a pleural mesothelioma diagnosis. She used extracts of mistletoe and winter rose, which may have helped her live better and longer.

Learning about her story can provide hope for people affected by mesothelioma. If you are considering alternative medicine, this story may help you open the conversation about complementary and alternative medicine with your doctor.

Regimen Excluded Conventional Mesothelioma Treatment

A 2017 medical report published in the Journal of Thoracic Disease details the results of the 64-year old German woman who received mistletoe and winter rose extracts to treat pleural mesothelioma.

Her doctors confirmed her diagnosis as stage 3 epithelioid pleural mesothelioma.

Her health care team sent tumor samples to the German mesothelioma registry as well. This independent confirmation of a mesothelioma diagnosis gives the case report added weight and credibility.

The patient decided against receiving radiation therapy, chemotherapy, surgery and a procedure called pleurodesis, which can remove excess fluid around the lungs.

She consulted a general practitioner qualified to administer mistletoe and winter rose extracts. The scientific name of the mistletoe used for cancer treatment is Viscum album. The type of winter rose used in the study is also known as Helleborus niger.

Over the next 50 months, the patient received monthly injections and infusions of mistletoe extract. Winter rose was added periodically, though not every month.

The patient received some medications and additional alternative therapies. These helped her cope with emotional distress, symptoms of disease, and other chronic conditions such as insomnia and low thyroid function.

Mistletoe, Winter Rose Extract Reduced Mesothelioma Symptoms

Within the first six weeks of beginning the mistletoe and winter rose extract regimen, her health care team reported she felt well, and her performance status improved.

The patient’s cough disappeared, and she experienced shrinkage of her mesothelioma tumors.

Her disease stabilized for 38 months. She lived for 56 months after her diagnosis. In summary:

  • The woman in the case study lived for nearly five years after her diagnosis
  • She reported feeling well for the majority of that time
  • She never received conventional cancer treatments

For patients with similar types of mesothelioma cancer, approximately 17 percent will be living two years after diagnosis. At five years, around 4 percent of patients will still be alive.

Considering these statistics, it is remarkable the patient lived for four years and eight months, especially considering she did not received conventional mesothelioma treatments.

Turning to the Garden for Medical Inspiration

Plants already are a big part of cancer treatment.

Over 50 percent of cancer drugs come directly from plant substances, or were developed in the lab by modifying a plant chemical into a drug.

Even garden flowers are getting in on the act. A recent report detailed natural substances found in daffodils have anticancer properties in the lab. These extracts may one day make their way into the clinic.

Some mesothelioma survivors claim moringa tree leaves, which contain high levels of protein, calcium, iron and antioxidants, have extended their life expectancy and improved their well-being.

Finding Your Best Path Forward After Mesothelioma

Deciding on the best course of action after a mesothelioma diagnosis is a very individual choice. To help you make the best decisions:

  • Talk with your oncology health care team
  • Obtain second opinions if necessary
  • Ask about clinical trial options
  • Ask if you can combine conventional and alternative treatments

Given the lack of a cure, complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) offers another avenue of hope for mesothelioma patients. CAM can help mesothelioma patients in a number of ways.

CAM therapies may provide a sense of control, improve quality of life and help manage symptoms and side effects.

Look for Treatment Centers Offering Integrative Oncology

Some cancer centers use integrative oncology, which is the combination of CAM and conventional cancer treatments.

If you are being treated at a large cancer center, where mesothelioma doctors are available to you, ask if any CAM providers are affiliated with their treatment facility.

Many large centers offer nutrition consultation, acupuncture, massage, or other supportive therapies. If these services are not available, let your doctor know if you plan to pursue them on your own.

The alternative medicines used in this case report are readily available in Germany. Mistletoe is not approved for use in the U.S., but it is available through clinical trials.

CAM regimens still aren’t proven to cure mesothelioma, but they may be able to help you live better and longer. Be sure to keep all of your health care providers in the loop so you can safely pursue the best treatment course for you.

Under Mesothelioma Treatment? Consider Quitting Smoking

If you smoke and are facing mesothelioma cancer treatment, giving up cigarettes may be the last thing on your mind.

Dealing with complicated mesothelioma treatments is challenging, and quitting smoking is stressful, too.

It’s more likely you are wondering how you’ll get through mesothelioma treatment than planning to quit tobacco.

Your mesothelioma health care team may offer help with smoking cessation. Given the worries that accompany a mesothelioma diagnosis, you may be tempted to tell them you’re not interested.

But there may be good reasons to reconsider breaking the smoking habit.

The effects of smoking on cancer treatment and how to help patients quit cigarettes were hot topics among cancer experts at the 2018 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Cancer Survivorship Symposium recently held in Orlando, Florida.

Does Smoking Cause Mesothelioma?

While smoking is a leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, it is not a direct contributor to a person’s risk of developing mesothelioma. Exposure to asbestos is the leading cause of mesothelioma.

However, for people who have been exposed to asbestos, smoking can worsen lung damage from asbestos.

Asbestos and the thousands of chemicals found in tobacco smoke cause inflammation in the lungs. The combination of all these chemicals and the cancer-causing mineral causes more damage to the lungs than either smoke or asbestos alone.

Smoking May Make Treating Mesothelioma More Difficult

Radiation oncologist Dr. Graham Warren of the Hollings Cancer Center at the Medical University of South Carolina shared decades’ worth of smoking and cancer research with symposium attendees.

He specifically talked about the connection between smoking after a cancer diagnosis and overall risk of death, cancer-specific risk of death, risk of developing another type of cancer, risk of cancer recurrence, toxicity during treatment and response to treatment.

Warren discussed the results of The Health Consequences of Smoking — 50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General, 2014.

The report indicates that quitting smoking, even after diagnosis, improves the prognosis of cancer patients. Giving up tobacco likely improves response to cancer treatment as well.

In his own laboratory, Dr. Warren has studied how cigarette smoking can decrease the effectiveness of radiation and chemotherapy against cancer cells.

Putting all of this information together, he estimated a person who continues to smoke after a cancer diagnosis may have a 60 to 70 percent higher likelihood of death after diagnosis compared with a patient who gives up cigarettes.

Getting Help to Quit Smoking

If you’ve been smoking for decades, you may have tried giving up cigarettes in the past. Even if you didn’t succeed, you learned something about what works and doesn’t work to help you quit smoking.

Every attempt to quit teaches you what you can do to make yourself succeed the next time. There is more good news: Formal programs to help people give up cigarettes work.

Warren noted for many tobacco cessation programs, two in three participants will quit or reduce use of cigarettes.

Communicate with your doctor about your interest in quitting smoking.

  • Ask your doctor to add quitting cigarettes to your mesothelioma survivorship care plan
  • Know your preferred method of help, which could include in-person health coaching, an online support group or telephone counseling
  • Ask for medications to improve odds of success
  • Use nicotine replacement products, such as gum or patches, to manage cravings

You can also ask your loved ones and friends to support your efforts to quit and use free resources to help yourself quit.

‘Forest Bathing’ for Mesothelioma: Breathing Natural Medicine

Shinrin-yoku is a Japanese term that translates to “forest bathing.” It refers to the practice of taking in the atmosphere of a forest to promote physical and psychological health.

Forest bathing could support many types of mesothelioma treatment because it is a simple and undemanding therapy.

The Japanese government has promoted Shinrin-yoku as a way of preventing and healing illness since 1982. Similar practices are established in South Korea.

In these Asian countries — two of the most modern, developed nations in the world — forest therapies are even covered by some health insurance plans.

So what does the forest have to offer aside from fresh air?

Proponents of forest bathing point out that humans originally thrived in natural environments such as plains and forests. Humans only began living in cities and suburbs during the past few thousand years, which is a tiny fraction of our history as a species.

It could be that our species evolved to depend on the natural environment to stay healthy.

Researchers in Japan and Korea have spent decades studying the influence of forest air on human health, finding evidence to support the popular practice of forest bathing.

The philosophy behind forest bathing has some similarities to Western naturopathy and aromatherapy. However, forest bathing also has a growing body of mainstream research behind it.

Links Between Shinrin-yoku, Kneipp Therapy and Aromatherapy

In Japan, visiting a forest is a popular way to reduce stress and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Studies have proven that relaxing in a forest lowers blood pressure and reduces the amount of stress hormones in the body. Chronic stress increases your risk of developing numerous health problems, so many holistic health philosophies give a high priority to managing stress.

One example from Germany is called Kneipp therapy. It is named for Sebastian Kneipp, a Bavarian priest who lived in the 1800s and proclaimed, “Nature is the best pharmacy.” Kneipp’s long career in alternative medicine continues to inspire practitioners of naturopathic medicine around the world.

Kneipp emphasized natural cures, exercising in the great outdoors and seeking a balanced lifestyle that fosters peace of mind. His American contemporary Henry David Thoreau also praised the calming and healing power of nature.

In terms of complementary and alternative medicine, forest bathing fits into the broad category of “nature therapy.” This refers to any practice that relies on a natural environment to decrease stress and boost the immune system.

More specifically, you could consider forest bathing as a natural aromatherapy. Aromatherapy uses essential oils to promote well-being — by either applying the oils during a massage or vaporizing the oils so they can be inhaled.

The plants of a forest produce essential oils that evaporate into the air, which gives the forest its natural smell. In recent years, researchers have discovered there is more to healthy forest air than a pleasant aroma.

Evidence for Forest Therapy Goes Beyond Relaxation

In several studies, researchers have examined the biochemistry of people before and after a forest-bathing trip.

They found forest bathing not only reduces the physical signs of stress in the body — it also increases the activity of immune-system cells that fight tumors and viral infections.

In 2009, a group of Japanese scientists designed an experiment to test whether the essential oils of a forest play a role in producing these health benefits.

Instead of visiting a forest in this study, research participants were sent to stay at a hotel in a city. The scientists vaporized essential oils from forest plants in the hotel rooms, recreating the atmosphere of a forest.

After three nights in the hotel, the participants showed lower stress-hormone levels and improved immune-system activity. This evidence shows forest bathing is not just about relaxing on vacation.

Rather, forest air is actually filled with chemicals that can benefit humans.

The essential oils produced by forest trees are known as phytoncides, which means “plant-derived exterminators.” Plants use phytoncides to protect themselves from germs and insects.

Phytoncides are important to a plant’s immune system. Science now suggests phytoncides can boost a human’s immune system as well.

Benefits for Mesothelioma Patients

A healthy immune system can increase the effectiveness of mesothelioma treatments — especially immunotherapy.

Many of the most promising new drugs being tested for mesothelioma are designed to unleash a patient’s own immune system on their cancer. But for this treatment approach to work, a patient must have a strong immune system to begin with.

Aside from helping the immune system, the health benefits of forest bathing include:

  • Reduced stress
  • Diminished pain perception
  • Better blood-sugar control
  • Improved mental concentration

In 2017, a Korean study reviewed research on a few other potential benefits of breathing forest air. The study focused on terpenes, one of the main classes of phytoncide found in pine forests.

Terpenes have anti-inflammatory effects that can ease lung problems such as bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Terpenes may also promote brain health in old age by preventing neurodegeneration.

Some terpenes even show direct anti-cancer effects in laboratory experiments.

The great advantage of forest bathing for mesothelioma patients is that it is an easy, gentle therapy.

Forest bathing is not about hiking up a hillside or memorizing plant names on a nature walk. There is no goal to reach, calories to burn or steps to count.

The purpose of Shinrin-yoku is to slow down, take a break from your worries and breathe deep the healing essence of the natural world.

Factors to Consider Before Becoming a Mesothelioma Caregiver

For many, assuming the role of caregiver is a natural process.

When doctors diagnose an aggressive cancer such as mesothelioma, the patient’s family members gravitate to the role of family care provider.

Caregivers are often the spouse of a cancer patient.

However, families don’t always fit into the “traditional” mold with a husband or wife caring for the spouse.

Adult children may find themselves caring for a sick parent. Caregivers may be more distantly related — or not related at all — to the person for whom they provide care.

Things to Consider Before Assuming a Caregiver Role

There are essential factors people should consider when assuming the selfless role of a family caregiver.

Many people might wonder if they are cut out for required duties and responsibilities of the position.

A good understanding of the demands and rewards of caregiving can ease the anxiety of deciding who will provide the best care.

The American Cancer Society describes many considerations a person should take before assuming the role.

Some factors to consider include:

  • Constantly changing duties
  • Rewards of providing care
  • Family expectations
  • Importance of self-care

Fluidity of the Caregiver Role

If being a caregiver teaches a person only one thing, it should be that the role constantly changes.

Life still happens in real time, even when families face cancer.

Bills need to be paid. Laundry and other chores still pile up. Caregivers are selfless jacks-of-all-trades.

One day a caregiver might focus solely on scheduling medical appointments. Another day might involve sitting bedside in a hospital room listening to doctors explain complicated medical procedures.

Family caregiving doesn’t come with a clearly defined job description, and if it did, someone would continually edit the manual.

The tendency toward change might be challenging, but change can also be a good thing.

Rather than becoming complacent and bored in the role of a caregiver, many people welcome the ever-changing schedule.

Satisfaction in Caring for Others

Caring for a loved one isn’t an easy job, but it can be the most meaningful duty of your life.

Facing cancer is a complicated process for families and even more challenging for the patient.

Being a supportive caregiver is a way to express love and support for a loved one in their time of struggle. Overcoming the physical and emotional challenges of caregiving present a sense of accomplishment and pride.

Guiding a loved one through a difficult cancer treatment or just getting the laundry done after an oncology appointment can foster a caregiver’s self-esteem and self-worth.

There is an intimate and unmatched — almost indescribable — bond between a patient and caregiver.

Family Pressures and Expectations

Family problems don’t magically disappear when dealing with cancer.

Sometimes family issues present before a diagnosis intensify during an illness.

Strained relationships may be more difficult at a time when communication and support are imperative.

Not every family has a caregiver in mind following a diagnosis. Not everyone seamlessly falls into the role of providing care.

Sometimes people underestimate the demands of caregiving and later decide they aren’t cut out for the job.

The American Cancer Society offers several tips to alleviate family pressures and develop realistic expectations of family members:

  • Set Limits: Decide which duties you are capable of fulfilling and let your family know. It helps when family members understand everyone must share responsibilities of caring for their loved one. Setting limits early allows families to avoid confusion later.
  • Don’t Ignore Problems: Almost inevitably, family caregivers will encounter unexpected problems. Ignoring these issues does nothing to solve them. Be brave, but also respectful when calling issues to the attention of other family members.
  • Seek Professional Guidance: Facing a cancer diagnosis can show a family’s resiliency. However, when issues become overwhelming, people shouldn’t hesitate to reach out to a social worker or mental health professional for help. These professionals are often a part of the patient’s oncology team.

You Can’t Pour from an Empty Cup

Self-care is perhaps the most critical element of all helping professions.

It is also one of the most neglected aspects of family caregiving.

Throughout my graduate program, I’ve heard professors remind students that helping professionals “can’t pour from an empty cup.”

The sentiment is also true for caregivers. No one can fulfill the duties of a care provider all day, seven days a week, without needing a break.

Self-care isn’t a luxury. It is a requirement.

Addressing your physical, emotional and spiritual needs are essential for providing adequate care for a loved one.

Taking time out for yourself might mean you need someone to fill in for you. With a little organization and planning, caregivers can take a much-needed break for themselves.

A few minutes of alone time can make all the difference.

Taking a bubble bath or reading a few chapters of a good book can profoundly impact the life of a family caregiver.

Becoming a caregiver isn’t always a decision people expect to make. With a little support and planning, the selfless love of caregiving can be the most impactful and loving experience for all involved.

How to Get the Most Out of Mesothelioma Immunotherapy

For patients with mesothelioma, there is a lot of excitement surrounding cancer immunotherapy.

Some ongoing clinical trials suggest immunotherapy may be more effective for treating mesothelioma than standard chemotherapy treatment.

For immunotherapy to work well, the patient needs to have a healthy immune system. In general, the healthier the immune system, the more likely a patient will respond favorably to immunotherapy treatments.

Ongoing immunotherapy research also suggests the microbiome, which is the community of microbes living on and in our bodies, can affect how well immunotherapy treatments work.

What Is the Microbiome?

The microbiome refers to the trillions of bacteria, viruses, fungi and other microbes that inhabit the human body.

We tend to consider bacteria and viruses as harmful to health. While it’s true they can cause colds, the flu and other miseries, not all microbes are harmful.

In fact, the microbes in the human microbiome play an important role in maintaining our well-being. For example, the microbiome in our gut plays a critical role in how the immune system works.

Some health experts even consider the gut microbiome a part of the immune system. Without a healthy gut microbiome, our immune systems do not function well.

In recent years, researchers have become more interested in how the microbiome affects cancer treatment, including immunotherapy.

Immunotherapy and Microbiome Research

Most of the microbiome-immunotherapy research has involved mice and rats. These studies point to the importance of having a rich variety of gut bacteria for immunotherapy to work well.

But a 2017 microbiome-immunotherapy analysis in human patients with melanoma agrees with the animal research.

For the melanoma study, the researchers examined the gut microbiome of 112 patients with advanced melanoma. All patients received immunotherapy called anti-PD-1 therapy.

PD-1 (programmed cell death-1) is a protein made by cancer cells that prevents a person’s immune system from killing cancer cells. Current mesothelioma clinical trials are studying how to block the protein and allow the immune system to destroy cancer cells without harming healthy cells.

Participants with a greater variety of gut bacteria at the start of the melanoma investigation were more likely to respond well to treatment. A good response meant their tumors decreased in size, disappeared or stabilized for at least six months.

The participants with a less diverse microbiome — one that includes fewer types of gut bacteria — were more likely to experience tumor growth during treatment. Their disease also stabilized for fewer than six months.

In summary: The wider the variety of bacteria inside the gut, the better the patients responded to immunotherapy.

Mesothelioma Patients May Benefit from the Microbiome

Anti-PD-1 immunotherapies currently being studied in mesothelioma clinical trials include:

Keytruda is the focus of an ongoing trial in six countries. These drugs are the same types of medication studied in melanoma patients.

The melanoma study does not prove cause and effect. It does suggest more variety in the microbiome could support a better response to immunotherapy for people with mesothelioma and other cancers.

Maintaining a Healthy Microbiome

Certain diet and lifestyle choices support a more diverse gut microbiome. A richer gut microbiome may support the body’s healthy response to immunotherapy.

The following steps support a varied and healthy microbiome:

  • Eat microbiome-friendly foods such as vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, beans, peas and whole grains.
  • Eat fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir and sauerkraut.
  • Get enough sleep. Most experts recommend between seven and nine hours of sleep per night and keeping consistent sleeping and waking hours.
  • Move your body every day. Avoid sitting for hours and enjoy daily physical activity such as walking.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight.

For healthier gut bacteria, experts also advise avoiding artificial sweeteners and taking antibiotics only when needed. They also recommend eating more high-fiber foods such as oatmeal, apples, bananas, broccoli, lentils and other edible plants.

These nutrition tips may not be appropriate for some mesothelioma patients during treatment.

Talk to your doctor or dietitian if you are losing weight without trying or have questions about your diet before, during or after mesothelioma treatment.