Spiritual support may comfort patients of faith during a difficult cancer journey

Spiritual support
Nurturing your spiritual well-being during cancer care may help you better cope with the disease.

Spirituality has many forms of expression and often means something different to everyone. It may be practiced alone or in a community. Some people may practice spirituality through organized religion and prayer. Others may find spiritual peace in nature, through meditation or silent observation. Others seek creative outlets or find that serving others feeds the soul.

“There are many ways for you to tap into your spirituality,” says Rev. Percy W. McCray Jr., National Director of Faith-Based Programs at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA).

A spiritual journey often is filled with unexpected discoveries and personal challenges. It may evolve over time after new experiences and the joys and tragedies of life. Your spirituality may also be challenged due to a traumatic experience, such as a serious injury or the onset of a disease, such as cancer.

If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, it’s not uncommon to experience spiritual distress after your diagnosis and during and after difficult treatments. You may question your beliefs or religious values, or suffer a loss of faith and a feeling of hopelessness after being diagnosed. You may wonder why this is happening to you, or doubt that your prayers are being answered. It’s important to address the spiritual dimension of the disease, in addition to the physical and emotional impacts.

“Spirituality is a self-managed resource,” Rev. McCray says. “It may help you find a sense of meaning and purpose. It may also help stimulate an examination of your life journey and trigger reconciliation or renewing relationships past and present. Some people have said they find a sense of meaningfulness or peace due to spirituality. And cancer patients use spirituality to help manage pain, anxiety and fear.”

Finding the right balance

Spirituality is often defined as an awareness of something greater than the individual self or a belief in a higher power. Regardless of how you define it, spirituality can be a source of peace, purpose, support and connectedness to others.

Nurturing your spiritual well-being during cancer care may help you better cope with the disease. During cancer care, spiritual well-being may improve your quality of life in many ways, including by:

  • Reducing stress, anxiety, depression and discomfort
  • Promoting a sense of belonging and connectedness to others
  • Reducing a sense of isolation and loneliness
  • Improving the ability to cope with cancer treatments
  • Helping you find meaning in life and strengthen the will to live
  • Stimulating self-awareness and personal growth
  • Promoting a positive mental attitude and outlook
  • Providing a clearer life purpose and sense of inner peace
  • Promoting feelings of hope and empowerment

At a time when people are increasingly at odds over many issues, the worlds of spirituality and science may seem fundamentally incompatible. But it’s important for cancer patients and caregivers to know that the advanced technologies used to treat cancer are not at odds with the spiritual support they may also receive during their care.

“Spirituality has shown promising results as a supportive adjunct during the delivery of medical treatment and care,” Rev. McCray says.

Tips for nurturing your spirituality during cancer care

As you undergo cancer treatment, you may draw upon spirituality for understanding, wisdom and strength. Overall, a strong spiritual foundation may help turn despair into hope, fear into courage, loneliness into connectedness, helplessness into power, and brokenness into wholeness. Here are some ways to do that:

Appreciate life. Try not to focus on understanding why cancer came into your life, but rather on how to deal with it now that it’s here. Acceptance and forgiveness are important tools in improving your outlook, and helping you appreciate life, love and family in a new way.

Engage in self-discovery. Ask yourself questions to discover what values, relationships and life experiences have helped define you as a person. This can help you understand your place and purpose in life. Here are some questions to consider:

  • What brings me comfort?
  • What brings me joy?
  • What are my important relationships?
  • How have I dealt with difficult times and losses in my life?
  • What experiences are most memorable to me?
  • What gives me hope?

Love yourself. Recognize the goodness in yourself. Look inward at who you are and what makes you special. Appreciating who you are, and loving that person, may help improve your self-esteem and deepen your sense of purpose in life.

Nurture relationships with others. Focus on relationships with those who are important to you, such as family and friends. Share the burden of this difficult time, as well as the joys of life's blessings. Connecting with other people may help you feel less alone. 

Set personal goals. Try to figure out what’s important to you, and what’s meaningful in your life, and make them a priority. Take part in activities that bring you joy and fulfillment. Finding a sense of meaning and purpose in the world may lead to personal growth, empowerment and inner peace. 

Focus your thoughts. Try prayer, meditation and relaxation techniques to focus your thoughts and feelings. It may help to write down your thoughts in a journal. Moments of quiet reflection may help you calm your mind and connect with your inner spirit.

Seek out spiritual resources. Read prayers, scriptures, essays or inspirational stories and/or attend religious services. Think about how the messages tie in with your personal values and beliefs. This may help you evaluate different philosophies on life so you can better understand your own.

Share your journey. Seek out a trusted adviser, friend or religious leader with similar spiritual beliefs. Sometimes, other people may have insights that you haven't been able to discover on your own. Sharing ideas and learning from one another may help you gain a sense of belonging. 

Find a place to practice your spirituality. You may choose a church, temple, mosque or other place of worship. You may also choose a quiet room in your home, or a peaceful place outdoors. Finding a space where you can be reflective may help cultivate your spirituality.

Be open to new experiences. If you aren't aligned with an organized religion already, you may decide to explore one. You may also consider a variety of faith traditions. Finding a spiritual direction may help you define your personal values and beliefs, promoting personal growth.

Learn more about learning to forgive is good for your heart and soul.