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Sharing the blessing

Author: Diana Price

Siesta Key, Florida, resident Linda McDonald has faced cancer three times. First diagnosed with a Wilms’ tumor in 1945 at age three, she was treated with surgery and radiation; 30 years later she was diagnosed with cervical cancer and underwent a hysterectomy; and at age 63 she learned she had breast cancer and sought treatment at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) in Tulsa, Oklahoma. “As a three-time cancer survivor, I feel very blessed to be here today,” Linda says.

Linda acknowledges that she has benefited from excellent medical care and loving support from family and friends throughout her journey with cancer, but she believes it is her faith that has been her greatest weapon in the fight. “I feel that it is the Lord above who is the reason I am still here,” she says.

Linda’s faith has always played a central role in her life, and she has always been active in her church community—from teaching Sunday school and Bible study to taking part in lay ministry trainings. For that reason she felt especially gratifed to learn of the spiritual support available at CTCA while she was undergoing treatment. “One of my doctors even offered to pray with me before surgery,” Linda says. “I had never been offered that before.”

Spiritual support at CTCA

“At CTCA we empower every individual’s faith as they journey with cancer,” says Aking Beverly, MDiv, MBA, Spiritual Outreach Coordinator at CTCA in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. “It is our intention to warmly, openly support and serve all who seek spiritual healing and all who believe that having your spiritual needs met is part of the healing process.”

According to Pastor Beverly, this desire to nurture patients spiritually is representative of the overall mission of CTCA. “As CTCA is the home of integrative and compassionate cancer care, it’s our philosophy to never stop searching for and providing powerful and innovative therapies to heal the whole person, improve quality of life and restore hope,” he says. To accomplish this goal, the entire care team strives to ensure that patients are in the best possible position—in mind, in body and in spirit—to fight cancer, which includes supporting their spiritual needs. “Patients’ needs are not always tangible or financial,” Pastor Beverly says. “They can be emotional and spiritual too.”

Spiritual outreach

With a deep knowledge of the positive impact of recognizing and caring for the spiritual needs of cancer patients, CTCA is committed to sharing resources and information with faith communities across the country through a unique program aimed at educating churches and church leadership about cancer and how best to support congregants who may be affected by a diagnosis. The Our Journey of Hope (OJOH) program has been providing lay ministry training and a speaker series, free of charge, to churches that want to bring the information about cancer and the value of spiritual support to their members.

Though supporting community members who are diagnosed with cancer may seem like common sense, people who have not experienced a diagnosis or that of a loved one may not know where to start. For the past several years, OJOH has provided information to educate community members about what patients and caregivers may be feeling—spiritually and physically—so that they can be there for one another in a productive way. This might include sharing some of the common spiritual struggles that patients face as well as information about practical concerns, like the need for transportation to and from treatment and for home visits for prayer if a patient can’t make it to church. “By educating a church as a whole about the spiritual and practical needs of patients, we can equip them to put patients in the best position to win the fight against cancer,” Pastor Beverly says.

In some cases, he says, a church has been interested in bolstering an existing cancer ministry with a daylong seminar focusing on clinical information about cancer and the practical aspects of managing a diagnosis; or they may have requested an empowerment care seminar, designed to educate faith communities in how best to support patients throughout the cancer journey. Sometimes a congregation has requested a speaker with expert knowledge in nutrition or naturopathic medicine. No matter the needs of the congregation, “We tailor the program to best reach each unique faith community,” Pastor Beverly says.

The OJOH curriculum is flexible, able to provide each unique congregation with a program to best meet the needs of that particular community. CTCA is currently in the process of expanding OJOH to provide in-depth training for church leadership who desire to start a cancer-care ministry in their congregation or community. Roll-out of this program is expected in the fall of 2013.

Passing the blessing

Inspired by the spiritual care she was offered at CTCA, Linda brought the OJOH program to her hometown church, Siesta Key Chapel. “Faith has always meant very much to me,” she says, “and I just want to do whatever I can to offer hope and support to others.”

The daylong OJOH seminar at Linda’s church included insight from a naturopathic clinician, a CTCA pastor and several other CTCA staff members, who provided practical information about cancer and the spiritual needs of patients and caregivers. “Everyone really appreciated the program,” Linda says. “They offered such a wealth of information. I still get comments from people about the program— they loved it.”

Since bringing the program to her own church, Linda has continued to pass along the blessing of spiritual support by speaking with other congregations about her experience and educating them about the needs of cancer patients. When she visits other communities, Linda often uses the OJOH materials. “The program really offers hope and support. It helps not only patients but also caregivers. Everyone is affected in some way, and this information is so universal. Any way that I can help, I’m all for doing that.”

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