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Cancer and Spirituality

Now that December has come and many people are preparing for Christmas and happy holidays with family and friends I find myself reflecting about the meaning of Christmas. But, I also find myself thinking about family and friends who currently have cancer at different stages plus all the patients and families I have cared for. It seems like an appropriate time to write about spirituality. This is different than religion (a system of beliefs and practices). As my patients, family and friends who have taught me – every human being is spiritual whether or not they are religious.

Spirituality refers that part of being human that seeks meaningfulness through intrapersonal, interpersonal and transpersonal connection. It is the unifying force of a person or an interconnectedness with self, others nature and God/Life. Some important elements include meaning (having purpose, making sense of life), value (having cherished beliefs and standards), transcendence (appreciating a dimension that is beyond self), connecting (relating to others) and becoming (which involves reflection, allowing life to unfold, and knowing who one is).

Research and clinical experience have shown that spirituality is a significant factor during the cancer experience for most individuals with cancer. Many individuals describe an increased awareness of spirituality during the cancer journey. Whether it increases or not spirituality appears to be associated with a fighting spirit, hope, inner peace, courage, meaningfulness, and satisfaction with life.

If you are family or friends of an individual with cancer how can you help nurture the spirit of your loved one? Some of the following are ways to help:
1) Be empathetic and respectful
2) Listen to your loved one tell stories of their life
3) Encourage self-expression (drawing, journal writing, poetry)
4) Support prayer, meditation, or guided imagery
5) Support healing rituals
6) Respect spiritual beliefs
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