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The way cancer affects spirituality is different for everyone. Spirituality can be defined as an individual’s sense of peace, purpose, connection to others and beliefs about the meaning of life. Cancer may weaken one person’s spirituality while strengthening someone else’s. And for some people, spirituality plays no role in their cancer journey at all.
Spirituality can be expressed through an organized religion or in other ways. Spirituality and religion have different meanings for many people, even though the terms are often used in place of each other. Religion can be defined as a specific set of beliefs and practices, usually with an organized group.
Cancer may challenge long-held beliefs. Sometimes, people living with cancer feel that their faith has let them down. For example, you may struggle to understand why you have cancer or question your relationship with your god. This unresolved spiritual conflict and doubt is sometimes called spiritual distress.
For others, a cancer experience can encourage new and stronger beliefs. Many people living with cancer find that their spirituality is a source of comfort and support. Cancer may bring a new or deeper meaning to their faith. They find they can cope better with cancer’s difficulties when they:
- read spiritual books
- talk with members of their spiritual community
If you’d like to talk to someone about spiritual issues, don’t worry if you haven’t attended religious services regularly or aren’t sure what you believe. Spiritual care providers are used to dealing with uncertainty. Their job is to help you sort through your ideas, doubts and beliefs, and find peace of mind.
If you don’t have a spiritual care provider to talk to, ask a member of your healthcare team if there is a chaplaincy service available to you. Hospitals and treatment centres often have chaplains on staff to help you and your family with spiritual concerns. While they come from specific faith traditions, they are trained to provide support to people with traditions different from their own.