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Visiting Virtually: Don’t Wait to Reach Out to a Loved One With Mesothelioma
If you have a loved one in your circle of family or friends who has been diagnosed with mesothelioma cancer from exposure to asbestos, then you already know how critically important it is for that person to remain isolated from anything and anyone who might expose him or her to germs — and especially to the virus known as Covid-19. The novel coronavirus can be extremely dangerous for those whose lung function is severely impacted by asbestos-related lung cancer or mesothelioma.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t spend quality time with your loved one. On the contrary, someone suffering from mesothelioma may feel especially cut off from the world in this time of social distancing. Reaching out to a patient with mesothelioma can make a significant difference in their comfort level and quality of life.
No, you shouldn’t make a personal visit to someone who has mesothelioma while a pandemic is in progress. The risk of exposing an individual with a compromised immune system and impaired lung function is just too great. However, there are several ways you can brighten a mesothelioma patient’s day without being physically present. Here are some ideas:
A Phone Call
Whether your mesothelioma loved one is at home or in the hospital, talking with them by telephone is almost always possible. Even if your loved one is on oxygen or has trouble speaking, they will welcome a call from you. If you’re not certain your loved one is strong enough to hold or operate a telephone, speak to a relative in the household or an attending nurse in the hospital. In many cases, healthcare staff will be happy to hold a telephone to a patient’s ear for the duration of your call. If face-timing with a speaker or headphones is an option, then your loved one can hold a phone or tablet in their lap.
If a mesothelioma patient is too weak or short of breath to carry on a two-way conversation, then you can do most of the talking. Asking how the patient is doing will likely be met with a brief, “Okay, I guess”. Don’t press for details. Instead, take the opportunity to describe how you are doing, the wacky weather you’re having, what the kids or grandkids are doing in their virtual learning classes, or how you and your family and friends are spending time when not at work. You can describe a recent book you’ve read or a movie you’ve seen. If you are face-timing, have family members make a brief appearance to say hi or to show off their latest craft project.
Be sure to speak slowly and distinctly. You don’t have to talk for more than a few minutes, and you shouldn’t dwell on a patient’s treatments or prognosis. After all, this is an opportunity to brighten your loved one’s day, not to remind them of their illness.
Cards and Letters
What if you don’t like to talk on the phone or your mesothelioma patient can’t hear well enough? Send a card with a personal note tucked inside. Whether your loved one is hospitalized or at home, receiving a heartfelt card or letter in the mail is a sure way to bring joy to their day. Handwrite your note in neat block letters or print out a typed note in a large, easy-to-read font. Don’t believe you are any good at writing? Type out the same things you would have said on the phone – describe what the weather is like where you are (or where they are), what you are doing for school or work, what the kids or grandkids are up to. Recommend an e-book or streaming movie they might enjoy.
Have the children in your life make or sign a greeting card or draw a picture to enclose. Print out a photograph of your family to tuck into the envelope. Make a homemade card or letter a weekly or monthly project for the family to do together. Engage everyone in the household in thinking of interesting topics to include in the next communication your loved one will receive. Regular correspondence brings incomparable joy to someone who is housebound or hospitalized and isolated from others, due to a pandemic or otherwise.
And don’t fret if your well-meaning gesture goes unacknowledged. Your loved one might not be able to respond in kind, but as long as an attending family member or healthcare worker can read your note aloud to the patient if they are unable to read it themselves, your efforts will be deeply appreciated.
Food and Flowers
Most mesothelioma patients don’t need any more “stuff”. But food and flowers are almost always welcome. You can sign up with an online florist to have a cheerful bouquet delivered to your loved one’s home or hospital room almost anywhere in the country. You can even select a seasonal arrangement to be automatically delivered each month, or every few months.
You can also support small restaurant owners in your loved one’s town by having a nutritious meal delivered once a week or to mark a significant date. And who wouldn’t enjoy a periodic bouquet of fresh fruit delivered to their door? Good nutrition is an important part of any mesothelioma patient’s recovery program. Individuals undergoing chemotherapy or other cancer regimens typically don’t have much of an appetite, so making sure that when they do eat, they consume only healthy, nutrient-rich foods, is a proactive step that not only aids their bodies in fighting disease, but also helps patients feel they have more control over their lives than the cancer does.
Most fruit and flower delivery companies have safety protocols in place to ensure that germ-free deliveries can be safely made to your loved one’s door. Just check to make sure that the mesothelioma patient has no dietary restrictions or allergies before sending any food or floral arrangements.
Games to Play
If you have plenty of time and your loved one is up for it, you might try engaging them in an interactive online video game that you can play along with them remotely. There are computer and smartphone gaming sites designed just for people with compromised abilities that can be accessed for free and without downloading any software. Since you and your mesothelioma patient will need to submit email addresses in order to play online games for free, you should create new email addresses for each of you that you will only use for gaming. This will prevent your regular inboxes from being flooded with ads. www.Pogo.com offers a variety of free online games, including chess, scrabble, card games, word games and puzzles. By joining an online gaming website, your loved one can play games remotely, alone, or with you and others whenever they feel up to it.
Drive By Display
Have “essential only” driving restrictions been lifted in your loved one’s area? You won’t want to expose your mesothelioma patient to any family members up close, of course, but that doesn’t mean you can’t drive by! Conduct a virtual visit by parking briefly in front of your loved one’s residence or hospital room window and hold up homemade signs saying “hello” and “I love you”.
Reaching Out Is Important
No matter the source of your support, you can help your loved one put activities into place to provide structure and encouragement. Major organizations, such as the American Cancer Society, offer lists of support networks in every state. There are even support groups for individual maladies caused by cancer and its treatments, such as neuropathy (pain and tingling in the extremities) and dyspnea (shortness of breath). See if your loved one would be interested in joining one of these support groups online.
Engaging regularly with your loved one is one of the greatest gifts you can give to a patient suffering from a devastating disease like mesothelioma cancer. The gift of your time, even virtually, will be a source of immediate joy and a welcome distraction for any mesothelioma patient. An additional bonus is that the memories of how you helped bring joy to someone struggling with a difficult illness will be a source of great comfort to you for years to come.