Faith and Breast Cancer

Since the beginning of human history, religion and medicine have been deeply intertwined with one another. But in recent decades, these concepts have started moving further apart—it’s important to understand what that means for breast cancer patients and survivors.

Physicians were empowered to focus on their roles as physiological healers while clergy members left medicine behind to focus on spiritual health. But is it possible that this separation has downsides? Could faith play an integral role in healing? As a survivor, I believe the answer to both of these questions is “YES!”

For many women diagnosed with breast cancer, treatment options include one or more of the following: Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, hormone replacement therapy, physical therapy, immunotherapy, reconstruction and clinical trials. It’s a long and intimidating list.

Many oncologists focus solely on their patients’ physical needs, addressing each with a specific regimen related to the stage, grade, and severity of the case. But while managing the physical needs of a patient may lead to better health, isn’t a person more than their diagnosis and physical health? What about our spiritual and emotional needs?

When we are diagnosed with breast cancer, it’s normal for us to become introverted, reflective and contemplatice, especially when facing decisions about life and death. And while it’s comforting to know the physical body is being cared for, it’s important to realize we have other needs and they deserve attention too. Spiritual and emotional health count.

As a breast cancer survivor and person of faith, I believe faith has enhanced my breast cancer recovery, providing a powerful source of comfort. While going through surgery and radiation treatment, there were many times I endured extreme pain. Through those trying times, I turned to my faith. As I prayed and read my Bible, I gained new strength, experienced a more positive outlook on life, and found the hope I needed to survive.

Many cancer treatment facilities have begun to recognize the importance of a person’s spiritual wellbeing. With the addition of trained clergy and onsite chapels, patients are able to seek spiritual guidance while receiving medical care. As body, mind, and spirit are addressed in tandem, patients experience a more holistic approach to wellness.

What is it about adding a spiritual component to cancer care that can potentially have such a potent impact on patients well-being? The answer may begin with the term faith, which can encompass ideas like belief and trust, and which may pertain to strong convictions like a belief in God or other higher power. People facing serious illness might also choose to put their belief and trust in their healthcare team and their faith in the drugs and the procedures intended to help them, which can be equally empowering. In whichever way faith plays a part, it can be a compelling component in cancer care.

As a four-year survivor, I am a firm believer in the power of prayer and the importance of faith in healing. And while there are no tools to help us measure the power of prayer, I believe that my survival is an indicator that faith has worked for me. Without it, I don’t believe I could have successfully managed my post-cancer journey.

My personal opinion is that patients should be allowed to receive resources for optimal healthcare, including addressing their spiritual needs. Faith should be one of the building blocks upon which a successful recovery is built, if not the very foundation upon which it rests.

I have no bitterness nor do I blame God. I don’t feel the need to ask “why me?” I am grateful for the love, support and especially the prayers of friends, family, church family and colleagues. It’s been humbling and sustaining. Sometimes, I feel a little guilty that I am included with those who’ve had a worse experience with cancer. Still, I am grateful for my outcome and pray for those who have not been as fortunate.

If one thing resonates above the many stated benefits and goals of spiritual care for cancer patients and their families, it is that faith-based care gives all involved a solid and enduring strength to carry them through their cancer journey.

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