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living with mesothelioma

Therapy dogs can bring comfort to mesothelioma patients

therapy_dogPeople who are diagnosed with a malignant disease, such as mesothelioma, tend to face emotional challenges as well as physical ones. Because of this, many patients turn to various sources of support. Family members and friends lend their open ears. Religious counselors can see to any spiritual needs. Yoga exercises allow individuals to center themselves and remember their breathing.

Different patients will respond positively to a variety of therapies, and many are worth trying. That includes a friendly nudge from wet nose.

History experts note that dogs and humans have spent 14,000 years forging a bond, providing each other warmth and friendship. This symbiosis is strong, and when the going against mesothelioma gets tough, some patients can fall back on that strength.

Why is living with mesothelioma hard?

People often do not realize they have malignant mesothelioma until they start experiencing pain, chronic coughing, difficulty breathing or other symptoms. By then, the illness is usually in its advanced stages.

There is currently no cure for mesothelioma, but there are several treatments that can alleviate its symptoms and extend survival, including radiation and chemotherapy. However, these approaches are often accompanied by difficult side effects, such as fatigue, changes in appetite, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. These reactions, combined with the symptoms of mesothelioma, can really take an emotional toll on patients. Some become anxious or depressed. Worse yet, some patients feel less motivated to adhere to their regimens, and that can lead to serious problems.

Companionship from capable canines

For thousands of years, humans have relied on dogs for a variety of tasks. While some canines help herd farm animals, others provide protection in law enforcement K-9 units. However, during the second half of the 20th century, dogs started being used for another important purpose – helping people within a medical setting.

During the 1990s, Therapy Dogs International (TDI) conducted a survey in which they asked various medical personnel to discuss the benefits of having therapy dogs visit patients in care facilities.

When it came to the patients:

  • 92 percent of healthcare providers said the dogs improved patients’ mood
  • 86.5 percent reported better social interactions among patients
  • 63.5 percent saw improvements in mobility
  • 80 percent said patients were more alert
  • 48 percent said patients were more cooperative
  • 17 percent of respondents saw improvements in people’s blood pressure.

In a nutshell, therapy dogs can bring a sense of normalcy to patients’ lives. Furthermore, many of those surveyed said that visits from the therapy dogs also boosted the morale of the workers themselves.

“When the dogs started visiting me during my cancer treatment, it was the turning point. My attitude improved, and my health started improving. It never dawned on me that therapy dogs would be such an important part of my well-being,” one hospital patient told Pfizer scientists. The pharmaceutical company is supporting additional research on how animal-assisted visits may affect pain management, medication adherence, recovery time and chemotherapy tolerance.

From facilities to homes

It is important to remember that therapy dogs are not the same as service dogs, which are specially trained to perform specific tasks to help the disabled. Therapy dogs perform volunteer work in tandem with a human partner. Organizations like TDI are able to organize patients’ visits with therapy dogs wherever they may be needed. This may include different treatment centers.

“We are excited to be able to provide a welcomed break in the day for patients, many of whom are in the hospital for long term care. Interacting with the dogs has a noticeable impact on their mood and enhances their well-being,” said Patricia Murphy, RN, MSN, director of oncology services at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Furthermore, TDI can help arrange visits to the homes of patients themselves.

Holiday Gift Ideas for Mesothelioma Patients and Caregivers

holiday gift ideasWhenever the holiday season rolls around, people often look forward to various traditions and rituals. Seasonal decorations for the home come down from the attic. Special recipe books are cracked open in the kitchen. Holiday favorites – Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, maybe even the Chipmunks – are played on the home entertainment system. And, then of course there is the matter of gift shopping. Do you have holiday gift ideas for a family member who is suffering from mesothelioma?

If one of your loved ones has malignant mesothelioma, you may be faced with a bit of a conundrum: What present would this person want? What present would this person not want?

At Kazan, McClain, Lyons, Greenwood and Harley, we want all of our clients – as well as their loved ones – to be able to enjoy the holidays just as they have every year. If you want to know what holiday gift you  should get for a mesothelioma patient, we have some ideas that we are more than happy to share.

Well-Meaning Gifts, But Scrap These Holiday Gift Ideas

When someone has mesothelioma or another type of cancer, it is only natural to want to be supportive and help them think positive thoughts. However, anyone who lives with such a diagnosis is probably dealing with an emotional gauntlet.

Author and cancer survivor Lori Hope has several suggestions for what gifts not to get for a patient:

  • A book about living with cancer. There is a glut of information about cancer out there: on TV, the internet, bookstores, etc. Mesothelioma patients probably want to maintain some sort of control over what they come across so that they do not become overwhelmed.
  • A video or book that suggests positive thinking can cure cancer. Such items can grate on patients’ self-esteem during moments when they feel low.
  • A sad movie. Having a chronic disease stirs enough negative emotions.
  • A subscription to a magazine that discusses current events. This may conflict with feelings of hope.
  • Nutritional supplements. It is better to ask patients about this before buying them something.

Holiday Gift Ideas that Pamper

Luckily, there are many presents that mesothelioma patients are likely to appreciate. Rachel Vitagliano, manager of patient relations for Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Philadelphia, collected some wonderful ideas from patients and caregivers.

If you want your loved ones to know that you have their health in mind, try buying them a gym membership. Fun and laughter are also important, so gift certificates to comedy clubs or lessons for diverting activities, such as music or crafting, may also be welcome. An e-reader may also be a good distraction during chemotherapy sessions.

And for those who appreciate feeling pretty and pampered, consider purchasing a spa treatment. Also, a nice set of soft cotton pajamas may help bring a night of restful sleep.

Hope adds that your time is also valuable. One neat idea is to create your own gift certificates for an hour of judgment-free listening, or a “get-out-of-jail-free” card that forgives lapses in manners when patients are having a bad day.

Don’t Forget the Caregivers

Both mesothelioma patients and their caregivers may feel frazzled from constant health concerns and appointments. So when it comes to gifts such as comedy club trips or spa treatments, consider making those presents good for two. Vitagliano adds that home-cooked meals and house cleaning services may also be appreciated.

Paula Spencer Scott, the senior editor of Caring.com, suggests that gift cards to restaurants, grocery stores and gas stations are all great ideas. A Netflix subscription can provide some much-needed distraction. Also, in case caregivers want time to themselves, you can offer to take over their duties for a day.

Mesothelioma and Asbestosis Patients Should Remember Their Flu Shots

man getting flu shotAs the winter solstice approaches, people in the U.S. are making sure they are prepared to face the colder weather. Firewood stockpiles have been replenished. Winter coats have been taken out of closets. Candles, water, food and other supplies are on standby in case of a blackout or other emergency.

Still, in the middle of December, there is one more thing that Americans need to make sure they are ready for: the flu. And when it comes to people who have diseases related to asbestos exposure, the flu may be especially hazardous.

At Kazan, McClain, Lyons, Greenwood and Harley, we want to make sure that our clients and their loved ones are doing everything they can to protect themselves against the flu this season. That includes getting a flu shot, knowing what to do in case one gets sick and learning how to avoid the virus.

20 percent of Americans catch the flu every year
Anyone who has ever had the flu is already familiar with its the symptoms: stuffy nose, sore throat, fever, painful muscles, fatigue, cough, upset stomach and more. This infection will also increase the risk of other diseases, such as pneumonia.

Experts estimate that 20 percent of people in the U.S. contract the flu every season, which can begin as early as October and end as late as May. More than 200,000 individuals are eventually admitted into the hospital because of this virus.

Although the flu can affect anyone, people who may have a higher risk of catching it include the elderly, young children asthmatics, diabetics, heart disease patients and individuals who have a weakened immune system.

What the flu means for patients with cancer and other illnesses
The flu can be especially dangerous for individuals who have malignant diseases of the respiratory system, such as mesothelioma. It is not clear whether these patients are more likely than those within the general population to catch the virus. However, people who have serious respiratory problems, such as mesothelioma or asbestosis, or immune systems weakened by cancer treatments, may experience more complications from the flu.

Protection and care
Government health officers recommend that all individuals aged 6 months or older get vaccinated against the flu. That includes patients who are sick with illnesses caused by exposure to asbestos. People who are severely ill with other conditions may not be able to receive a flu shot, but any questions about whether an inoculation is appropriate can be answered by a medical professional.

There are two main forms of flu vaccination: one is a nasal spray infused with weakened virus, while the other is an injection of dead virus. Cancer patients should only receive the latter type of inoculation because the former may cause sickness among individuals who have a weaned immune system. Caregivers or loved ones may take the nasal spray unless the patient is undergoing high-dose chemotherapy.

Once an individual starts developing symptoms of the flu, he or she must consult a medical professional immediately. Caregivers need to be prepared to discuss a patient’s medical history. Afterward, caregivers have to make sure that their charges take all the necessary medications, recuperate in a room separate from non-sick individuals, and that everyone in the household cleans their hands frequently.

There are other good tips that will help prevent the flu:

  • Use soap and warm water, or alcohol-based sanitizers, to clean your hands.
  • Keep your hands away from you mouth, nose and eyes.
  • Try to stay away from small children who attend school or daycare.
  • Stay at least six feet away from sick people, if they cannot be avoided altogether.

Mesothelioma Patients Can Keep Up the Spirit of Thanksgiving

As Autumn gives way to winter, many people in the U.S. take this time to enjoy the holidays and reflect on the past year. In late November, Thanksgiving often involves cooking indulgent meals, enjoying good wine and counting one’s blessings.

For cancer patients with malignant mesothelioma, as well as their caregivers, this may be a challenging time, both physically and emotionally. However, at Kazan, McClain, Lyons, Greenwood and Harley, we’re committed to helping you adjust to life with this condition as much as possible – and that includes keeping up the spirit of Thanksgiving.

Meal preparation

Thanksgiving dinner is cause for careful consideration for both mesothelioma patients as well as their caregivers – but for different reasons.

For example, those in the latter group may be looking to keep their energy levels up throughout the hustle and bustle of the holiday in order to continually care for their loved one. This is when a few tweaks in meal preparation may come in handy.

For instance, health experts say that a Thanksgiving dinner plate should be half vegetables in order to stave off the lethargy that comes with consuming too much turkey. The antioxidants in these foods, such as vitamin C and beta carotene, can help caregivers feel their best. Delicious choices include peppers, baby carrots, squash, sweet potatoes and beets. The healthiest plates will be light on butter, cream and sugar.

Additionally, brining a turkey in water, salt and seasonings the day before Thanksgiving can help add flavor without the use of fatty, fatigue-inducing ingredients.

Meanwhile, mesothelioma patients may worry about the effects that medical treatment can have on their eating habits, including a loss of appetite, a modified sense of taste, dry mouth, nausea and more.

For patients with no appetite, high-protein and high-calorie products – such as cheese, muffins and dairy – may help. The trick is to eat them more often throughout the day, but in smaller portions.

Individuals with dry mouth or oral sores may also want to consider eating moist and soft products, such as mashed potatoes and gravy.

Of course, the flavor of any Thanksgiving dish can be intensified with spices or sauces.

Enjoy time with your loved ones

As Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on what we are grateful for, it is important for you to enjoy spending time with your friends and family. This is a good opportunity to play catch-up or discuss the challenges you may face every day. Talking to your loved ones and bringing them up-to-date on your situation may also allow them to understand the help you may need.

If you need to reach out beyond your social circles, there are many cancer support groups available online and in person. Hospitals and organizations such as the American Cancer Society are usually able to provide wonderful referrals.

Caregivers of Mesothelioma Patients can Benefit from Support Systems

caregiver with elderly manAt Kazan, McClain, Lyons, Greenwood and Harley, we not only care about clients who are battling malignant mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases, but we are engaged with their loved ones as well. As this illness advances, patients need more extensive care in order to live as comfortably as possible. In some cases, a relative or friend may take on the role of caregiver.

We recognize that this is a noble and loving gesture, considering that most patients with advanced illnesses prefer to live at home rather than a long-term care institution. In this post, we offer some tips that hopefully can be informative for those who decide to become caregivers for our clients who have asbestos-related diseases.

A wide range of tasks

As a caregiver, you are considered part of a patient’s medical team. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), your tasks may include keeping track of appointments, handling insurance issues, making sure the patient is getting enough food and rest, following medication instructions and helping with everyday functions such as bathing and dressing.

The ACS has several guidelines to ensure that you provide the best care you can:

  • Keep the patient involved in his or her treatment plan.
  • Allow the patient to make their own decisions, but provide guidance if their judgments are poor.
  • Encourage the individual to do as much as they can to care for themselves.
  • Be mindful of your own needs, including rest, exercise, healthy eating and medical care.
  • If you are feeling overwhelmed, turn to the rest of the medical team for guidance.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help from others so that you can take time for yourself. Make a list of tasks you need the most help with, and check with loved ones to see if they are able to assist with anything specific.

These tips will become increasingly important as more individuals are diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases. According to the Environmental Working Group, the incidence of these illnesses may not peak for another decade or more.

Good ways and bad ways to tackle stress

It is normal to feel frustrated, fatigued or otherwise burned out from having to take care of a sick loved one. All people need to figure out the best way for them to deal with stress.

According to the ACS, healthy coping mechanisms include eating healthy food, exercising five times a week, engaging with a religious community, turning to internet support groups, practicing relaxation techniques such as yoga and staying in contact with supportive friends and family.

In contrast, tobacco use, sleep medication, alcohol consumption or bringing work home can aggravate stress.

Children May be Fragile Following Mesothelioma Diagnosis of a Relative

older woman holding girlA diagnosis of cancer, including malignant mesothelioma, can affect all aspects of an individual’s life – work, leisure time activity, plans for the future, spirituality and relationships. Children in particular can be sensitive to the news about a loved one’s diagnosis because they may not always be mature enough to deal with their feelings on their own. In these cases, they may need help from their parents, counselors or other trusted adults.

At Kazan, McClain, Lyons, Greenwood and Harley, we want to make sure that every member of the family – including the youngest and most tender – gets the support that he or she needs.

Breaking the news

The bottom line in helping children understand what is happening is to be truthful with them. According to the American Cancer Society, the most basic information that all kids need include the name of the disease, the affected part of the body, how it will be treated and how their lives may change.

However, the level of details that you share with them depends on their age. Younger children may need to be reassured that they did not do anything to cause the mesothelioma, and that the condition is not contagious.

If they wonder whether their relative will die from mesothelioma, it is important to remember that although the truth is necessary, that does not mean everything needs to be shared all at once. In this case, it may be better to focus on the present, and save potentially devastating news for when a prognosis is definite.

These discussions are best held in an environment free of potential distractions or interruptions. It will be helpful to plan what to say ahead of time, and emphasize that the lines of communication will always be open for questions or concerns.

All children are unique, so each youngster may react to the news in a different way. Even though they may not always be able to articulate their feelings, they will always show them in some way. Signs that a child may need professional help include chronic sadness, persistent irritability, changing grades, differences in appetite, insomnia and difficulty concentrating.

Maintaining routines

According to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, routine can create a sense of security for children. To that end, mealtimes, bedtimes and other scheduled activities should be maintained. Any changes, such as a visit to the hospital, need to be discussed ahead of time. Furthermore, it is important to maintain discipline and behavioral limits.

Some, but not all, children may like to help out around the house with chores. However, parents need to remember to be realistic about these tasks, and to allow kids to have fun just being kids.

Mesothelioma and Exercise: What Patients Should Know About Physical Activity

man on exercise machineFor people with malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM), life after treatment can be very different. Things like diet, rest and daily activities usually change to accommodate a person’s new health status. But that doesn’t mean that everything from your old life has to fall away. Certain things, like regular exercise, can still be an important part of your weekly schedule.

At Kazan, McClain, Lyons, Greenwood and Harley, we know. We’ve spent almost 40 years helping people with MPM understand their legal and medical options. While we always recommend that patients talk to their doctor about physical activity, we do know that moderate, low-impact exercise can help improve quality of life for some people with mesothelioma.

In fact, two new studies have proven it.

Moderate activity boosts QoL

The pair of reports, both published in an August issue of the journal The Cochrane Library, essentially said the same thing. (And they should – they’re written by the same people.) For individuals with cancer, exercise can help improve their quality of life (QoL).

Each paper comes in the form of a literature review, combining the results of as many as 56 prior trials involving more than 4,800 people with cancer. The authors found that, overall, physical activity boosted a number of QoL indicators.

After six months of exercise-based interventions, participants exhibited improvements in:

  • Overall QoL
  • Body image
  • Self-esteem
  • Emotional wellness
  • Sexual activity
  • Pain levels
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety levels
  • Physical mobility
  • Social interactions

Researchers said that “together, these reviews suggest that exercise may provide quality of life benefits for people who are undergoing or have undergone treatment for cancer.”

But be cautious

While life with mesothelioma does not necessarily have to be taken lying down, it’s important to be judicious with physical activity. Patients who have just received treatments must take several weeks (or, in many cases, months) to fully recover. Once a doctor clears you for exercise, start slow.

The Mayo Clinic recommends beginning with relaxation exercises, in which you slowly tense and then release different muscle groups. After that, MPM patients may gradually work their way up to yoga, tai chi, hiking or slow jogging.

In all cases, patients should have someone on hand to help moderate their level of activity and to assist in case they begin feeling dizzy or faint. Remember to warm up beforehand, cool down afterward and drink fluids throughout.

And again, as the American Cancer Society emphasizes, only engage in exercise after being cleared by your cancer team.

Related articles:

Nutritional Information for Mesothelioma or Lung Cancer Patients

Strategies for Coping with a Mesothelioma Diagnosis

Mesothelioma Support Services and Groups: Benefits and How to Find Them


Inspirational Stories of Those Whose Lives Have Been Touched by Mesothelioma

Man with nurse smiling“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.” – Stephen Hawking

One of the most important parts of living with mesothelioma is knowing that you’re not alone. You have friends, family members and coworkers who care about you, not to mention other mesothelioma survivors out there who understand exactly what you’re going through.

If you could use a little uplift in your day, there are hundreds of inspirational stories out there written by people who are living with mesothelioma and not letting the disease stand in their way.

15 Year Mesothelioma Survivor

One of the most unique is the story of Paul Kraus. Born in an Austrian concentration camp in 1944, Kraus emigrated to Australia with his family. In the 1960s, he worked close to a factory that processed asbestos sheets. Then, in 1997, at the age of 53, Kraus was diagnosed with mesothelioma.

Even in the face of such a terrible disease, he has not let his illness get him down. Kraus was given less than a year to live, yet he continues to thrive even now! He has written countless books on living with mesothelioma, in which he recommends some basic dietary and lifestyle changes. Today, he lives with his wife and their two miniature schnauzers in a little town north of Sydney.

6 Year Mesothelioma Survivor

Another inspiring story is that of Debbie Brewer, a 52-year-old mother and patient activist in the UK. Though diagnosed with mesothelioma six years ago, she is still as energetic as ever.

Her secret? It’s all in the mindset. “Mesothelioma isn’t always about dying. It’s about living as well, ” she told This Is Plymouth. “I want to be around to see my first grandchild, to see my children move in to their first homes. I don’t want to leave them behind not coping.”

If you’re looking for more inspirational stories about those whose lives have been touched by mesothelioma, there are a number of places to try.

At Kazan, McClain, Lyons, Greenwood and Harley, we recommend a number of books written by survivors, including Kraus’s Surviving Mesothelioma and Other Cancers, J.R. O’Connor’s They Said Months, I Chose Years!, and the handy guidebook 100 Questions and Answers about Mesothelioma by Harvey Pass, Amy Metula and Susan Vento.

If you’d like to tell your own story to help others, you can do so here at the website of the American Cancer Society.

How Family Members Can Support Mesothelioma Victims

Happy Senior CoupleAt first, caring for a family member with mesothelioma can feel a little overwhelming. You might find yourself asking, Am I doing enough? Where do I start? How do I get organized? Fortunately, you’ll soon find your groove, and in the meantime there are little things you can do to make things easier for you and your loved one.

Over the years, we at Kazan, McClain, Lyons, Greenwood and Harley have spent enough time with mesothelioma patients and their families to learn that there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to support the person you love. It’s the trying that counts.

As long as you explore the best available medical and legal options, that’s a good start. However, if you find yourself exhausted, overwhelmed or at a loss for where to begin, here are some tips for supporting a loved one who has mesothelioma.

  • Use a planner, calendar or notepad. One of the most important parts of caring for someone with malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM) is making sure they get all the necessary follow-up care. This usually means driving them to and from appointments for physical exams, blood tests and medical scans. By using a small planner or notepad, you can keep a schedule and even jot down questions you may have about care or treatment.
  • Take care of basic errands. A big side effect of both MPM and its treatments is fatigue. This means that your family member will either need help performing tasks or, in some cases, may need you to do them for him or her. Try to take care of chores and errands, even if they’re relatively minor. Buy groceries, cook meals, measure out prescriptions and, when you can, help them feed, dress and bathe themselves.
  • Get creative with food. At some point, they’ll start having to avoid solid foods and to eat things like soups, stews, broths, smoothies, shakes or Jell-O. To keep their appetite up, try to mix things up whenever you can. Experiment, and ask them if they’re craving anything.
  • Give them emotional support. Listen to them, and talk about worries or concerns. Take them to mesothelioma support groups. And of course, try to help them enjoy the little things.
  • Finally, take care of yourself! If you’re too frazzled, you won’t be much help to anyone. Be sure to take breaks, or to ask for help when you need it. And consider joining a caretakers’ support group, where you can meet and sympathize with other people in the same situation.

Related articles:

Mesothelioma Support Services and Groups: Benefits and How to Find Them

Nutritional Information for Mesothelioma or Lung Cancer Patients

Mesothelioma Support Services and Groups: Benefits and How to Find Them

mesothelioma support groupsIf you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, you probably feel shocked or overwhelmed to a degree you never thought possible. Even if you have plenty of friends and family to lean on, it might occasionally feel like you don’t have anyone who quite understands what you’re going through. This connection – this commiseration you need – is what support groups are for.

During the many years we’ve helped mesothelioma patients at Kazan, McClain, Lyons, Greenwood and Harley, we’ve learned that there’s almost always a support service out there for you.

If you’ve never visited a support group (most people haven’t), here are some things to know about them, including their benefits, their limitations and where to find them.

Benefits of Mesothelioma Support Groups

Support groups are often as simple as you’d think. In-person groups usually meet weekly or monthly, often in a church, school or community center. Many support meetings will have very little in the way of structure. Instead, they’ll focus mainly on helping you express your emotions, voice your fears and meet other people like you. We’ve often had mesothelioma patients tell us that in a support group, they met people whose situations we’re almost exactly like theirs. Knowing that there are others out there sharing your experience can really help you cope with having mesothelioma.

Types of Mesothelioma Support Groups

Support groups come in a plethora of different varieties. You can take advantage of this to find one (or several!) that feel like a good fit. Some groups are for people with any kind of cancer, while others are intended solely for people with mesothelioma. While some are organized by counselors or doctors, others are patient- or survivor-led. Support groups can be just for men, women, children, the elderly, or for people with specific health complications.

Support Group Venues

Not all services are in-person. Phone-based support lines can let you talk to someone whenever you need to hear a friendly voice. Plenty of e-groups, chat rooms, internet forums exist online, too. These can help you get in touch with people from all over, especially if you live in the countryside or don’t have easy access to face-to-face services.

Limitations of Mesothelioma Support Groups

It may take a few tries to find a group or service that is a good fit for you. Don’t be discouraged! If using the internet is not your thing, try finding an in-person meeting at a local community center. If you feel like you don’t have much in common with the people in your group, consider looking for meetings and services that focus only on helping patients with mesothelioma. Finally, even though you’ll likely make some life-long friends in your support groups, be sure to only follow medical and legal advice given to you by your physicians and legal counsel. Be cautious of contacting groups via attorney websites, especially fake “.org” sites where attorney sponsorship is hidden, since these are often nothing more than disguised client solicitation devices.

Related articles:

The Stages of Mesothelioma: What Can I Expect After My Diagnosis?

Strategies for Coping with a Mesothelioma Diagnosis

Mesothelioma and Exercise: What Patients Should Know About Physical Activity

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