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Spiritual Care for Cancer Survivors

Finding ways to nurture your spirit can bring wholeness and wellness during cancer treatment and recovery.

by Walter V. Moczynski, DMIN, BCC

Author of Article photo

Dr. Walter Moczynski

Life is filled with challenges. Like­wise, the cancer journey can have many pauses or jolts that can disrupt your inner peace, drain your strength, cause you to question your meaning and purpose, and cloud your relationships and your future. No matter where you are on the journey, when you find yourself in a challenging situation that stops you in your tracks, you can draw upon spiritual resources within and around you to move beyond surviving to living again. But in order to do that, you must tend to your spirit.

Spirituality can mean different things to different people. For many, spirituality means connecting to a transcendent deity or God. For others, it is tapping into a vast expanding cosmos or to the environment around them and all living creatures. Others may look inward, finding spirituality within a beating heart or in every breath.

Regardless of whether your sense of spirituality comes from a particular religion with rich traditions, rituals, and community or simply from within your­self, finding ways to nurture your spirit can bring wholeness and wellness in the course of cancer treatment and recovery.

Initiate sacred time and space in your life.
Many of us are inundated with endless daily tasks in caring for ourselves, for our livelihoods, and for others. Trying to find time for yourself in a society that values busyness can be daunting. Add to that an additional level of medical appointments, tests, treatments, recovery, and more appoint­ments, and your calendar is likely beyond full. But, no matter how busy you are, you can – and must – initiate sacred time and space for yourself.

No matter how busy you are, you can – and must – initiate
sacred time and space for yourself.

Establish a time and space to settle your thoughts, reclaim your breath, and connect to your spirit in a peaceful way. Your sacred space is not limited to a fixed time or location. It can be morning, noon, or evening. You can hold this space in your home, or you can carry it to other places, like the waiting room, for exam­ple. While some people embrace the stillness of the day, your personality may move you to go for a run, swim, or walk.

Once you have initiated a time and place for your spiritual self-care, be peaceful and free. Allow yourself to experience this peace with simple breath repetitions, meditation, or prayer. Let your thoughts come to the surface and then drift away to be connected with your spirituality. Free yourself to move from the “why me?” of cancer to the “what now?” Begin to embrace life, family, and friends in a new light, set new goals, and love yourself.

Uncover meaningful signs and symbols.
Signs and symbols are robust ways to have a tangible connection to your spirituality. They allow your senses in be in tune with your thoughts. Yours may be a sacred written word, phrase, object, poem, prayer, photo, work of art, or song lyric. Find one or more that reminds you of a sacred connection or that represents comfort, joy, strength, or hope.

Discover spiritual resources.
Though you may be surrounded by family members, friends, and medical caregivers along the cancer journey, you may still feel alone in the midst of many people. Reach out to foster relationships that are important to you. Find a friend, clergy member, or chap­lain to be a spiritual guide. Explore sacred texts, inspirational stories, rites and rituals, worship, music, and jour- naling that connect with you. Follow creative pursuits to nourish your spirit and deepen your understanding of the world around you. You may also want to consider connecting with a spiritual community, such as a church, mosque, sangha, synagogue, temple, or other assembly of worship to deepen your spirituality and break that feeling of isolation.

You are not alone on this journey. An eternal presence of hope and love is woven within many religious tradi­tions and spiritual practices. You need simply to find the ones that resonate with you.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Dr. Walter Moczynski is the director of the Center for Spiritual Care at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, MA, and a field education supervisor at Harvard Divinity School in Cambridge, MA.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, July/August 2016.