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What is Spiritual Support?

The physical and psychological effects of cancer take a toll on patients and their families. Spiritual support helps people cope with these hardships, especially when the diagnosis is terminal.

Spirituality encompasses an individual’s connection to and beliefs around a higher power. Some people identify spiritually with a particular religion, while others practice spirituality in a nondenominational way.

Spiritual practices extend beyond prayer and attending religious services or places of worship. Spirituality may involve meditation, interacting with nature, spending time with loved ones and volunteering your time to a greater good.

Spirituality helps people make meaning and find purpose in life. These concepts become particularly important when faced with a terminal diagnosis such as mesothelioma.

However, some people feel spiritually distressed after a cancer diagnosis. Patients and caregivers may develop doubts about their beliefs in the wake of such life-altering news.

Cancer patients may experience spiritual pain in their search for personal meaning, purpose and connection. They may experience a loss of faith along with feelings of despair.

Spiritual distress may come off as depression, but spiritual support from trusted loved ones and spiritual leaders can help cancer patients find meaning, purpose, hope, comfort and a sense of inner peace.

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Watch: Hear mesothelioma survivor Tamron Little share how faith helped her get through her diagnosis.

Spiritual Support in Cancer Care

According to data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2002, 68.5 percent of cancer patients say they pray for their health.

Medical professionals who work in cancer care understand the importance of spiritual support. It is not uncommon for nurses and doctors to pray with their patients.

A 2021 research report noted that palliative care is essential for managing the symptoms of mesothelioma and providing emotional, psychological and spiritual support.

Research from the National Cancer Institute shows that doctors who support the spiritual needs of patients — whether through prayer or referral to a chaplain — may improve patients’ quality of life.

Cancer patients who receive spiritual support often report improvements in physical health, according to a 2015 study published in the journal Cancer. They also are more likely to find meaning in their suffering.

The types of spiritual support offered in cancer centers typically include:

  • Counseling with a spiritual or religious representative
  • Individual and group prayer
  • Worship services
  • Bible study
  • Help making end-of-life decisions and arrangements for advanced care

Spiritual Support in Cancer Centers

Spiritual support is available at hospitals and cancer centers through a chaplain. A chaplain is a representative of a religious tradition who offers spiritual services at a secular place such as a hospital or school.

Chaplains offer what is called “compassionate presence” by making themselves available to people with cancer to feel connected to another person and potentially feel connected to God.

Chaplains offer spiritual support and do not attempt to convert patients to any particular religion.

If you prefer to speak with a spiritual leader from a specific religion, the chaplain can arrange that for you. Chaplains maintain connections with local faith group leaders such as rabbis, priests, pastors and monks.

A chaplain will spend time talking to you about spiritual concerns, pray with you and offer solace and emotional support. Chaplains offer this support to caregivers and family members as well.

These services are available at nearly any time. Many patients like to meet with a chaplain before surgery to calm fears and find a sense of peace amid feeling a lack of control.

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Spiritual Support in Places of Worship

Cancer patients may turn to places of worship within their community for support. Local churches, temples, synagogues and mosques serve as valuable sources of spiritual support.

Most places of worship have an open invitation to anyone seeking spiritual support or guidance. You can do an online search to learn more about places of worship in your area. You can also ask your cancer center’s chaplain for recommendations.

Call places of worship to inquire about the types of spiritual support and services they offer.

Spiritual Support from Hospice

Addressing spiritual needs is a core component of hospice care.

Hospice providers around the U.S. provide spiritual care to patients and their family members. Each hospice organization offers a variety of spiritual services, including spiritual counselors, spiritual care coordinators and volunteers.

Spiritual care counselors are a lot like a chaplain at a hospital. These counselors do not attempt to convert patients to any particular religion. They only offer support and care in a time of need.

Whether receiving cancer care at home, in a hospital or at a specialized cancer center, spiritual support is available to people with cancer free of charge. Chaplains, religious leaders and spiritual counselors are among the primary go-to sources for support.

Patients can also reach out to family, friends and loved ones for spiritual support. Together, you can pray, volunteer, attend religious services or spend time outdoors.

Spiritual support comes in many forms, and it often brings people closer together.

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