It’s a diagnosis that many women dread: breast cancer. But over the course of the years, I have met many inspiring women who have survived breast cancer, and who’ve bravely faced this disease with extraordinary courage. I’ve discovered one of the things that helped them was their sense of spirituality or faith in a greater power.
Breast cancer facts
It’s an unfortunate reality that many of us will, at some point, know someone with the disease—or maybe even confront it ourselves. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that, second to skin cancer, breast cancer is the most widespread cancer found among women in the United States. The CDC also provides the following facts about breast cancer in the US:
- Annually, upwards of 200,000 women get the disease and more than 40,000 women die from it.
- Breast cancer in men accounts for less than 1% of all cases.
- While most women diagnosed with breast cancer are 50 years old or older, younger women also suffer from the disease.
- Women 45 and younger account for about 11% for all new breast cancer cases.
Spirituality and breast cancer patients
Upon an initial diagnosis of breast cancer, many patients may feel denial and shock, followed by anger and rage, and stress and depression—emotional states similar to Kübler-Ross’s Five Stages of Grief. As with other trying times in life, many of us turn to our spirituality—an awareness of something greater than ourselves—to help us through.
Spirituality, as a matter of course, is an individual matter and can take many forms. While some may find spirituality in traditional faith-based churches or synagogues, others may find it through meditation or even nature.
But can spirituality really make a difference in the healing and recovery for some breast cancer patients?
A spiritual foundation
Yes, spirituality does help those attempting to adjust to a breast cancer diagnosis, but it depends on whether spirituality was already part of a patient’s life prior to diagnosis, notes a Psychology Today article, “Spirituality: Its Impact on Breast Cancer Patients”. The article cites studies indicating that, during breast cancer treatment, relying on previous spiritual or religious foundations may be preferable to pursuing new spiritual struggles.
Additionally, a Breastcancer.org article, “Spirituality and Prayer,” states, “Studies have found that spirituality, religion, and prayer are very important to quality of life for some people who have been diagnosed with cancer. Research has not shown that spirituality and prayer can cure cancer or any other disease, but they may be a helpful addition to conventional medical care.” The article also refers to data that prayer may reduce a breast cancer patient’s anxiety and stress, while improving their will to live.
Studies on spirituality and cancer
While previous studies on spirituality and illness have been small, Breastcancer.org notes that, “Interest in and recognition of how spirituality can help people cope with serious illnesses, including cancer, has been growing.” Additionally, the article explains, “Data from these studies show that spiritual coping may be one of the most powerful ways people draw on their own resources to deal with a serious illness. A high level of spirituality in seriously ill people may be linked to lower anxiety about death.”
The article adds, “The U.S. Office of Technology Assessment looked at studies reported in the Journal of Family Practice over a 10-year time period. The review found that 83% of the studies done on spirituality found a positive effect on physical health.”
Breastcancer.org also says, “An analysis of 43 studies on people with advanced cancer said that people who reported spiritual well-being were able to cope better with their illnesses and find meaning in their experience.
“In research done specifically on women with breast cancer, spirituality and prayer has been associated with less depression and a more positive sense of well-being.”
A soothing balm for the spirit
Today, on World Cancer Day let’s reflect on finding meaning in life during times of hardship. While it won’t cure breast cancer, it can help provide a soothing balm and make transitions easier. Healing is an individual journey, and sometimes spiritual coping is exactly what we need to best help us through.