Cancer patients of faith may find spiritual support comforting during these difficult days

Spiritual support
During challenging times, cancer patients of faith may turn to their spirituality to help calm their fears.

As COVID-19 continues to spread across our communities, Americans are dealing with drastic changes to their normal routines. Restaurants and other businesses are shuttered. People are being told to lock down or quarantine themselves. And around-the-clock news coverage about illness and disease may be adding to the stress and anxiety. Some cancer patients, especially those with compromised immune systems, may be under particular stress due to their vulnerability to COVID-19. During these difficult times, cancer patients of faith may turn to their spirituality to help calm their fears and provide comfort that there are brighter days ahead.

“Folks are already living in fear of cancer, and now this,” says the Rev. Percy W. McCray Jr., National Director of Faith-Based Programs for Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA). “They may be wondering how they can stay calm. We know that mental health affects physical health, so it’s important for cancer patients who are people of faith to maintain their connections to their faith community.”

For cancer patients who are active in their church or other faith congregations, social distancing—which is encouraged to help contain the spreading virus—may have a compounding effect on those used to turning to their faith family for support. Keeping in touch may be challenging when houses of worship are closed and many services have been canceled. “There’s a really big psychological and emotional dynamic for people of faith,” Rev. McCray says. “Social distancing has a double effect on people of faith who tend to congregate and draw on strength by being around fellow believers.”

Social distancing and isolation are important steps for cancer patients to take to avoid exposure to COVID-19. Cancer and its treatments may leave patients with weakened immune systems, underscoring their need to avoid exposure to the virus.

Rev. McCray advises cancer patients and others so inclined to take advantage of the assortment of faith-based programming available online for words of inspiration, encouragement and hope. “The No. 1 thing during this time of social distancing is to take advantage of social media, where there is a plethora of streaming programs that allow people to stay connected to something or someone in their faith community,” he says.

Cancer patients and their families may also host their own version of an online service and reach out to friends, family and other patients for fellowship and encouragement via video conferencing platforms.

For those who may not have access to the internet or the know-how to use it, playing favorite hymns or other spiritual music at home may be soothing and calming. Reading the Bible, Quran, Torah or other spiritual text may also be helpful. Enjoying family time, something that’s often scarce during the rat race of daily life, may help enrich and enhance family bonds. And “there’s always that old-fashioned form of communication called the radio, where there’s plenty of spiritual programming across the board, including teachings, prayer sessions and inspirational music,” Rev. McCray says.

It’s important for people of faith to remember that, while they may be physically alone right now, they are not alone spiritually, Rev. McCray says. If you’re feeling lonely or anxious, pick up the phone and call a friend, a family member or your pastor. Often, talking about your fears and anxieties with someone you trust helps relieve the stress. Don’t underestimate the physical and mental benefits of human connection, whether in person, on the phone or via video chat.

“There are things that can be done to enrich and enhance and empower peoples’ faith as we go through this season of social distancing and not being able to get out and about,” Rev. McCray says. “There are ways to connect with and stay connected with those we care about and from whom we draw strength.”

If you are in active treatment and are concerned about how the COVID-19 situation may impact your care, please contact your care team.

Listen to Rev. McCray’s weekly podcast, Health, Hope & Inspiration.