The Role of Spirituality for Breast Cancer Patients

In Breast Cancer, Recent Posts by Barbara Jacoby

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When a person receives a cancer diagnosis, their universe is changed forever. In my own case, I had a primary care physician who was there to help me at every step. She is the one who set up referrals for the testing facilities, surgeon, oncologist, radiation oncologist and plastic surgeon. And it was my surgeon who was responsible for selecting the anesthesiologist with whom he would be performing my surgeries. However, while my team was set to take care of my disease and physical needs, no one ever considered the mental issues that I might have to deal with, let alone how such a diagnosis might impact those around me. I didn’t even give a single thought to it myself as I was so focused on being where I was supposed to be along with maintaining my regular work schedule and the rest of my daily obligations.

“No one can tell a cancer patient or their caregiver(s) what is best for them to do in dealing with a major medical diagnosis like cancer. And if you do not have a foundation of spiritual (not religious) thinking, it is almost impossible. “Barbara Jacoby

Every single cancer patient’s experience in dealing with the distress of their diagnosis is as unique as their fingerprints. Although cancer-related distress is usually defined in terms of feelings of sadness, hopelessness, powerlessness uncertainty, guilt, etc., each person’s feelings are totally individual. A patient’s feelings may affect them on the mental, physical, social and/or spiritual levels that will make dealing with their diagnosis and treatment even harder for them. That is why, after this past year of stress and total disruption of our lives on every other level as well, I started to think about the impact of our spiritual mindset as well and when I cam across an article recently on this topic, I had to share.

“Breast cancer survivors are often a highly spiritual group given the trauma they have been through, and we found they often have more positive spiritual beliefs in a loving God or higher power rather than a punitive, punishing God,”  according to a research study of an assistant professor at the University of Missouri Sinclair School of Nursing who previously spent a 20-year career as a nurse practitioner.

Further in the article it does indicate that this “research sets the foundation for future research that evaluates the effectiveness of spiritual and mindfulness interventions, including daily prayer, mediation, yoga and relaxation, on health outcomes among cancer survivors and individuals with chronic disease.”

Because of the trauma that I experienced from my domestic abuse, I thought that I had everything under control thanks to my previously learned coping skills. However, when I was diagnosed a second time, it was my husband who came to the rescue as he realized that it was not a good thing for me to be keeping everything inside. He knew that I liked to write, so he suggested that I do just that and he would find a way to share those writings. That’s how my blog site was born. And thank heavens that he did because my situation was about to become worse. Just a few weeks before my double mastectomy and start of my reconstructive surgery, my brother died on the operating table of a heart attack during his 12th cancer-related surgery. My doctor’s way of helping me to deal with the resulting anxiety that I experienced was to put me on blood pressure and anti-anxiety medications.

No one can tell a cancer patient or their caregiver(s) what is best for them to do in dealing with a major medical diagnosis like cancer. And if you do not have a foundation of spiritual (not religious) thinking, it is almost impossible.  Therefore, I have been a strong proponent for years of adding a professional to each patient’s medical team who will be there to help find ways to deal with the distress that will result on some level for every single patient and caregiver. Such professionals have received the training to assist patients and caregivers in dealing with all of the feelings and issues that they are facing. They have worked with many others who have dealt with such issues and can either help directly or provide referrals to groups, agencies and/or other professionals to help with whatever may arise.

That is why I tell my story. I have been on a mission to educate those in the medical community that we need to treat the patient and not just the disease. Every single patient and their caregiver(s) need to have the tools to deal with the impact that such a diagnosis will have on each of them on a personal basis. So I was extremely surprised and excited to know that the gratitude that I feel for everything, including for every single day that I have been given. And this is  the reason that I always do whatever I can do to support other breast cancer platforms that have originated from other survivors who advocate to support such spiritual and mindfulness efforts to help patients to deal with the fears and stress that they may be experiencing and we welcome anyone who wishes to join us.