For patients with mesothelioma – a rare type of asbestos-related cancer affecting the lungs, abdomen or, rarely, the heart – the pandemic has brought additional fear and uncertainty. These patients are often in multiple demographics at higher risk for serious COVID-19 complications – including being immunocompromised and usually older.
How will they safely access medical evaluation and care? How will they connect with a network to provide information and emotional support without contact with others? What are the latest treatments, trials and successes?
To address these and other critical questions and needs, the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation (Meso Foundation) launched MesoTV starting April 1. The YouTube channel brings information to meso patients, their families and caregivers, as well as the general public, and helps bring together patients, advocates and doctors. The programs are as short as 10-15 minutes long, but usually average 25-35 minutes each.
According to its mission statement, the Meso Foundation “is the nonprofit collaboration of patients and families, physicians, advocates, and researchers dedicated to eradicating the life-ending and vicious effects of mesothelioma.”
In its first MesoTV broadcast, Mary Hesdorffer, NP, who is executive director of the Meso Foundation, spoke with Dr. Daniel Sterman, a pulmonologist at New York University (NYU) who also serves on the foundation’s Board of Directors. He provided a frank and serious discussion about the potential impacts of COVID-19, at a time when New York City was at the pandemic’s epicenter. They talked frankly about what Dr. Sterman was witnessing on the front lines of medical care during the crisis, as well as discussing specific concerns facing mesothelioma patients.
Particularly challenging with treating mesothelioma patients, Dr. Sterman noted, was that symptoms of pleural (affecting the lungs) and peritoneal (affecting the abdomen) mesothelioma are similar to COVID-19 symptoms – respiratory distress and difficulty breathing; and nausea and abdominal pain, respectively. As a result, a patient coming in for meso care could unknowingly also have the coronavirus, and pass it on to nurses and doctors, and potentially other at-risk patients.
“It becomes very complicated very quickly right now, because we have to assume in both outpatient and inpatient settings that most patients if not all patients could potentially harbor COVID-19,” he said.
Medical professionals embraced telemedicine and other technologies to help them consult with meso patients while allowing patients to remain safer at home. In a subsequent video, members of the University of Maryland Mesothelioma Team discussed tools like Zoom that have proved to be beneficial in that they allow patients to have friends and family with them during a consultation, either with them in their home or on the video call; remove the need for often infirm people to travel to specialized care centers, and provide opportunities for expanded collaboration.
“It’s almost in some senses better,” said Dr. Joseph Friedberg, a thoracic surgeon. “It’s easier for people to join. They can be wherever they are. I came off a meeting with about 25 people and everyone can participate. It actually worked out pretty well.”
Technology allows the mesothelioma team to conference with referring physicians or the patient’s primary caregiver, and all the physicians involved in the patients’ care can be available to answer questions and share information. This expands the resources available to help address patient fears and concerns about the direction of their care and treatment, and comprehensively assess health needs.
Since the initial video, the Meso Foundation has regularly posted on its MesoTV channel, with videos including panel discussions among meso survivors, researchers, medical professionals and caregivers. The videos are available both on the foundation’s YouTube channel and on its website.
Beasley Allen lawyers handle mesothelioma claims. They are looking at cases of industrial, occupational and secondary asbestos exposure resulting in lung cancer or mesothelioma as well as claims of asbestos-related talc products linked to mesothelioma. Contact us for more information.