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Role of spirituality in shaping cancer patients lives

  • Posted on- Aug 26, 2015
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Spirituality is usually explained as an awareness of something greater than the individual self. It is often expressed in a prayer form, though there are different paths of spiritual pursuit and expression.

Spirituality is constitutional and a critical factor in the way cancer patients cope with their illness from diagnosis through treatment, survival, recurrence and dying. Studies have shown a beautiful blend between spirituality and quality of life. While cancer can trigger deep existential issues that could stimulate profound suffering and distress, spirituality will result in better health outcomes, particularly quality of life for patients across the course of cancer care.

Followers of spirituality in the context of health say that prayer can decrease the negative effects of disease, assist speedy recovery and augment the effectiveness of medical treatments. Attending religious events is connected with improvement of several health conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, cancers and overall health status. Scientists however have mixed evidence on this.

With spirituality, it’s easier to find meaning in life when dealing with cancer, even though it cannot cure the disease. Spirituality may also help us accept illness and death, both for ourselves and for loved ones.

How can spirituality be practiced?

Spirituality has multiple forms and can be practiced in various ways. Prayer is one form, which can be sung, spoken aloud or chanted. Regular attendance at a place of worship may involve prayer that focuses on one's self.

Spirituality can also be practiced with the help of meditation. Simple practices such as silent observation, listening, or gratefulness can become part of spirituality that can infuse everyday life. Some people like to spend time with nature, doing creative work, or serving others as part of spirituality.

Many medical professionals and practitioners support spirituality, prayer and meditation as important components of healing. Moreover, many hospitals have tied up with voluntary organizations to serve their patients’ spiritual needs.

Cancer patients need attention

The need to attend to the spiritual needs of cancer patients is well documented, both from the perspective of patient desire and the benefits to patients' quality of life. Not addressing spirituality could result in bleak prognosis, increased non-compliance with the treatment plan, and failure to help patients find effective coping mechanisms.

Studies indicate cancer patients' spiritual needs are under-addressed due to time constraints, lack of confidence in effectiveness, and role uncertainty. Other contributing factors include healthcare professional education and training, design of clinical practices, shortages of healthcare providers, and policy constraints.

Training in the recognition of spiritual needs is only one constituent of an effective model for the delivery of spiritual care. Screening for spiritual needs is not effective unless there is no effort to address these issues including supportive resources.

From the moment of diagnosis of cancer through treatment, cancer patients undergo immense distress. Spirituality can be a powerful positive force in helping patients reframe their illness, find greater meaning in life, and recognize what is ultimately important and of value to them. It is therefore responsibility of the medical professionals to address spiritual issues of the patient, diagnose and treat spiritual distress and integrate patients' spiritual resources of strength into the treatment plan. In this way, patients can receive the most compassionate care with improved quality of life as well as patient health outcomes.