When Emily MacRae was diagnosed with breast cancer, it seemed as though it was another in a series of losses that were happening at that point in her life. Her marriage was ending, her children were grown and beginning lives of their own, and she had recently lost her job. In fact, when she was being discharged from the hospital after her surgery, she couldn’t find anyone to give her a ride home. Then, as so often happened during and after her treatment, she saw someone from her church visiting another patient. Emily found her ride home, and through her faith and the support of her faith community, found a way to persevere and thrive.
Why it is important
Spiritual wellness has to do with our beliefs, values and the search for meaning in our lives. The search for meaning before, during, and after treatment is common for cancer survivors. Many people engage in spiritual activities to help them cope with the fear and uncertainty cancer can bring.
You may find your spiritual home in your current faith tradition, or you may seek out a different religious organization. Others may find spirituality in nature or meditation, rather than in a place of worship. It is less important where you find support for your spiritual side, than it is to find a spiritual practice that supports you.
According to studies, spiritual wellness can:
- Help you cope with the trauma of diagnosis and treatment
- Reduce anxiety, stress, anger and depression
- Enhance the quality of your life
- Increase feelings of inner peace and hope
What you can do
If you are interested in focusing on your spirituality, here are some tips:
- Connect with a faith community of your choice. Many organized religious organizations have programs for people dealing with serious health problems.
- Talk to your doctor or care team about your spirituality questions or preferences. Many treatment centers and teams can connect you to pastoral staff or advisors who can support your spiritual needs
- Consider a spiritual practice that supports and brings you inner peace.
For some, this might mean regular prayer time alone or with a group, participating in a spiritual retreat, taking a walk in the woods, or practicing meditation. Others might practice yoga, Tai Chi or Qigong. (Some forms of yoga can be strenuous.
Check with your doctor or care team for information about the right form of yoga for you.)
- Make sure the experience is helping you. A spiritual home or practice should support you and feel comforting. In the wake of a diagnosis of cancer, some people begin to doubt their faith tradition, or are angry with God. If this is how you feel talk to your care team, spiritual advisor or someone you trust.
Questions to ask yourself
- Is there someone in my community I can talk to about my spiritual needs?
- Is there a form of spiritual practice, religious or otherwise, that I would like to explore?
- Where can I learn more about meditation?
- Will taking part in a spiritual practice be comforting or stressful?
Questions to ask your doctor or care team
- I am angry with God, and doubt my faith; is there someone I can speak to about my feelings?
- What other kinds of spiritual support can you recommend?
- Finding Comfort in Spirituality, from the National Comprehensive Cancer Network
- Holy Spirit Portality, a blog written by Rev. Molly Baskette, lung cancer survivor and lead pastor at the First Church Somerville UCC
- Website of Sudha Carolyn Lundeen, RN, E-RYT 500, senior teacher at the Kripalu Center, and cancer survivor
- Cancer Survival Toolbox, an award winning, free audio program produced by the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship, the Oncology Nursing Society, and the National Association of Social Workers
- Cancer Survival Toolbox (En Español)