Spirituality and cancer
Spirituality is a person’s sense of peace, purpose and connection to others as well as their beliefs about the meaning of life. Finding meaning in life is a deeply personal process – and having cancer can affect what you think has meaning in life and how you go about finding it. So cancer may affect your thoughts on spirituality or how you go about practising and showing your spirituality. Or it may not. Everyone’s experience is their own. For some people, spirituality plays no role in their cancer journey at all.
Some people express their spirituality through an organized religion and find this to be a source of comfort and strength. Organized religion, which is usually on specific beliefs and practices, often provides a community of people who meet regularly, share similar experiences and provide support. The framework of beliefs that organized religion provides may help you address the questions that cancer brings to your life.
For others, spirituality is something separate from organized religion. They may find it in nature or in the goodness of others or in the connections between us all. They may meditate or practise rituals from different cultures. They find spiritual value in activities such as journalling, yoga, art, music or spending time in nature or with loved ones.
You may find that cancer brings a new or deeper meaning to your spiritual beliefs and activities. Praying or meditating may comfort you, or comfort may come from reading spiritual books or connecting with others in your spiritual community.
Cancer can also make you challenge beliefs that you’ve had for a long time. Sometimes, people living with cancer feel that their faith has let them down. You may struggle to understand why you have cancer or question your relationship with your god. If your faith has been very strong in the past, you may find this very upsetting.
Research has shown that people with a particular faith or spiritual belief often have hope, a sense of peace and a better quality of life.
Talking about spiritual issues
If you’d like to talk to someone about spiritual issues, don’t worry if you haven’t attended religious services regularly. And you don’t need to be sure about 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 to find a sense of peace.
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.
Great progress has been made
Some cancers, such as thyroid and testicular, have survival rates of over 90%. Other cancers, such as pancreatic, brain and esophageal, continue to have very low survival rates.