The magazine Cure is free to cancer patients, survivors or caregivers.
Its recent “bonus” issue includes an article titled “Keeping The Faith”. Patients with cancer who have a religious or spiritual belief system report better physical health, according to the results of a meta-analysis of studies involving more than 32,000 adults with cancer. Those who believe in something outside themselves, whether it involves an organized religion, faith in a higher power or a spiritual connection to nature, report a stronger ability to cope with a cancer diagnosis and whatever follows. One reason they may feel better? They may get more social support.
Experts know that physical, emotional, and social health are all interconnected. So it is no surprise that social connectedness is associated with longer life; for example, patients with prostate cancer live longer if married rather than single. The form of belief system didn’t seem to matter. It wasn’t going to church, praying or meditation. It was having a purpose in life, feeling a belief in something greater than oneself. It’s the sense of connection that seems to be important, not the content of the religious belief. Those who were isolated reported worse physical, emotional and social health. People who attend religious services may be surrounded by a community that provides prayer and perhaps meals, visits and practical support.
“I think people who have meaning and purpose in life and have a focus which allows them a sacred space to refocus on what’s most important to them, experience better outcomes because they’re able to process better” says the Rev. Regina Pair Allen, M. Div., senior chaplain at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. “Those who have no outlet, no core, no compass are wandering in the desert of the journey of cancer.” Those with strong faith demonstrate higher rates of acceptance of their fates, chaplains say.
So what is the message for us? If you are a cancer patient, take time to focus on what’s important. Give thought to faith in a higher power, something “outside” yourself. And for those of us who are family or friends to cancer patients, know that as you reach out to them you are connecting in a way that gives them the strength and courage needed to fight the fight.
And if you know someone who is fighting their cancer battle alone, you are needed!!! Reach into their life and be their strength.