CANCER STORY: Success & Hard Truth

Spirituality and its Positive Effects


by Emily Walsh, and contributing writer for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance blog

As a cancer patient, being terminally ill and facing the prospect of death is not an easy journey for many people. This is generally a time filled with not only physical pain and scars but also emotional and social challenges. However, with spirituality, many people are better able to cope with life-threatening illnesses and to enjoy the positive psychological effects that it offers.

Spirituality may mean different things to different people but it is usually the belief or awareness that there is something or a being that is greater than the individual. It may also be the way people connect to others and things as they find their purpose in life. Some people may associate spirituality with religion and prayer. Other forms of spirituality may include meditation, yoga, reading inspirational books and passages, singing religious and inspirational songs, having personal and quiet time and attending spiritual services or meetings. Spirituality affects varying elements of your life, including your values, emotions, beliefs, thoughts and relationships.

Research as to whether spiritual well-being may reduce survival rates and healing is mixed with some supporting the claim and others showing that it does not provide any healthy benefits. However, studies have revealed that there are some positive emotional effects of spirituality among people who are terminally ill. These may include:

•Helping you to cope with the stress and the anxiety of dying,

•Having feelings of hope and optimism and living a life with meaning,

•Coping better with your situation and the possibility of death,

•Being more aware of yourself, your abilities and feeling empowered,

•Providing comfort and peace during your life-threatening illness,

•Accepting and preparing for death as an outcome,

•Feeling a sense of connectedness with family, friends and other people,

•Improving your faith and confidence.

For some people, a part of the positive psychological impact in the midst of end-of-life illnesses is planning for their final wishes when they pass on. This may include items for the program and venues for the service as well as a final resting place.

The importance of spirituality in health care is emphasized with the palliative therapy approach that assists patients and their families with their physical, emotional and spiritual needs. Having support and care from a team of professionals to deal with your particular situation offer comfort and help to alleviate the stress during serious and life-threatening illnesses. Some spiritual well-being resources may include counseling and speaking with a chaplain.

If you are a terminally ill patient, spirituality may offer you relief and positive emotional strength as you cope with life and death challenges. A useful resource for information on the impact of spirituality for people facing end-of-life issues is the American Cancer Society.