People 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.