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June 18, 2024

MSU’s School of Social Work receives $1.1M to support mesothelioma caregivers

Michigan State University’s School of Social Work has received a grant worth over one million dollars to co-lead a study aimed at improving psychosocial support for mesothelioma caregivers. The grant, totaling $1,125,417, was received from the U.S. Department of Defense, or DOD, in partnership with the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation.

Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer with a poor prognosis that is difficult to diagnose and to treat. The median life expectancy for patients is eight months, and about 40% of patients receive no treatment, according to experts.

Mesothelioma is typically caused by the inhalation of asbestos and is often linked to occupational exposure, with significant levels of exposure found in the military population. It may be diagnosed 30 to 50 years after exposure.

“The poor prognosis and the long time between asbestos exposure and onset make mesothelioma unique compared to other cancers,” said Amanda Woodward, a professor in the School of Social Work, which is housed in MSU’s College of Social Science.

In addition, mesothelioma patients “struggle with anger and conflicting feelings of loyalty and blame toward longtime employers,” according to Woodward. They also face legal and financial circumstances related to mesothelioma that add complications for the caregivers after their loved one’s death. 

“All of these things make caregiving especially complicated for mesothelioma caregivers; however, there’s not a lot of research looking specifically at this group,” Woodward said.

The research team, which includes MSU social work doctoral students Jen Hirsch and Linda Zhang, seeks to address this gap by improving understanding of mesothelioma caregivers’ experience from the time their loved one is diagnosed, through the patient’s death and beyond. 

This study is slated to proceed over four years, progressing from information gathering to intervention development and then feasibility testing. Part of the work will include creating a 10-week-long intervention group led by social workers with experience in oncology and, specifically, mesothelioma.

“Sessions will include a combination of information sharing, homework and participant reflection, and will draw on the concept of meaning-making, which has been found to be an important aspect of adaptation in bereavement,” Woodward said. 

The final intervention will be dictated by the results of semi structured interviews and focus groups with patients, current caregivers, those who have lost a loved one to mesothelioma and other stakeholders.

This study is also directly relevant to the overall intention of the DOD’s Patient Well-Being and Survivorship Award to fill gaps in our understanding of the psychological health and well-being of those affected by cancer with a focus specifically on mesothelioma caregivers.

“From a research perspective, one benefit is to add to knowledge about mesothelioma caregivers, which is largely missing and therefore makes it hard for health and social service professionals to effectively support them,” Woodward said. “Of course, we also hope that the intervention proves to be feasible, ultimately effective at supporting caregivers and something that can be used more broadly.”

This story originally appeared on the School of Social Work website.

By: Brandon Drain

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