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Spiritual Care Vital in Cancer Battle

From Our Journey of Hope ® (

The thoughts crept in, swirling around like villainous wraiths in an enveloping darkness, each with arrows pointed directly at her heart. Fears, anxieties, what ifs, devilish things … intent on robbing her of hope, light, faith, life, fight. The battle was on.

As the reality of a cancer diagnosis sinks in, it’s not just the body, but the mind, emotions and spirit that are engaged in the fight for life. Faith can be shaken when something goes amiss with the scenario and life we’ve been living. If we can’t trust and believe in what’s been working up until now, what can we trust? Is anything worth our faith and confidence? And, unless cared for, both mind and spirit can capitulate to the suggestions rising up in conjunction with this body invader, depressing the immune system and jeopardizing the efficacy of the treatment undertaken to destroy the cancer cells.

A woman may begin to lose all hope and become depressed, beginning a downward emotional spiral and affecting her physical health. She may quit eating or exercising. She may lose all sense of well-being … what’s the use … things are out of control. I have no control over my life. Look what I’ve done … all the right things … and I’ve still gotten cancer … I’m going to die anyway. She may think, I trusted in God to take care of me, and look what happened … I can’t trust Him either. She may perceive lack of support and community.1 She may begin anticipating future losses that may or may not be real. She may feel less attractive, desirable, affecting not only her self-esteem but her family dynamics. So, now there’s a decline spiritually, mentally, emotionally, physically and nutritionally. Faith is failing, and cancer is winning.

Moreover, she may begin her cancer journey with some emotional and spiritual baggage.2 She may need to look back over her life before the diagnosis to see if there was an event or series of events to which she reacted in ways that may have adversely affected her immune system. She can’t do anything to change past events, but by examining her past reaction to the event, she can sense immediately whether she’s continuing to be affected by that event in a way that is still depressing the immune system. Things like unforgiveness, revenge, negative thinking and words, despair, self-hatred, high stress, unfinished grieving, conflict between actions and belief system, make up this kind of baggage. These need to be identified and then minimized and/or eliminated to enable the immune system to fight the cancer at full capacity.

A cancer diagnosis may be the perfect impetus to take a spiritual inventory with questions like … what gives life meaning … what’s my purpose in life … what do I believe in … what’s important to me … what do I want people to draw from me … are there things I want and need to change, correct, make right, either in my relationship to God or with others?

In my own life, my husband of 14 years was killed in 1984, leaving me with a 16-acre farm and four little girls to raise, ages 7, 9, 11 and 13. Additionally, I was driving 84 miles to work and back every day, and I had some pretty high stress in my life. In 1987, at the age of 39, I was diagnosed with an aggressive, Stage 3, estrogen-positive breast cancer. The tumor was three-quarters the size of my breast. It hadn’t been palpable in January, but in May, there it was, and it had spread to my lymph nodes. I’d been a competitive swimmer for 13 years of my life, always taken care of myself and had a strong, personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. But, the circumstances I was in had taken a toll before I even realized it. A double mastectomy and six months of chemotherapy followed.

Today, as a 20-year cancer survivor, I’m convinced my restored health and ability to work, keep the farm going and raise my daughters was due in part to the surgery and chemotherapy I had, but also to my faith and the spiritual care I received from God through His Word, His Holy Spirit, prayer, church community, family and friends. It certainly showed me:

  • where I needed to renew my mind and thinking on some things;
  • refuse to believe or give into negative thought patterns like fear, anger or despair;
  • strengthen my faith;
  • tap into the fullness of God’s resources for me, including His hope, peace, life, ability to battle on my behalf;
  • and focus on two monumental truths -- who He said He was and who He said I was.

When I focused on those truths and not just on my circumstances for the day and what I was feeling at a given moment, both of which could fluctuate wildly, I felt stable, strong and well.

Lyn Thompson is the Spiritual Outreach Coordinator for Cancer Treatment Centers of America at Southwestern Regional Medical Center in Tulsa.  A graduate of Arizona State University, she has won numerous state, regional and national awards for her work from organizations such as the International Association of Business Communicators and the National Association of Press Women. Additionally, she has four years teaching experience at Christian schools and enjoys leading women's retreats for churches.

Copyright © 2008 Rising Tide, Kft. Used by Permission.

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