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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 69% of patients living with cancer pray for health. Faith while living with mesothelioma is important for many patients and may even have a tangible impact on wellness.
How Does Faith Help Cancer Patients?
Religious and spiritual beliefs help many people cope with all the difficult times in their lives. For someone with a cancer diagnosis, faith is often particularly important.
Mesothelioma is terminal cancer. In rare cases, and if mesothelioma is caught early, remission or a cure is possible.
Most patients are living with a death sentence, and exploring faith can be an important way to cope. Practicing faith might even improve a patient’s symptoms and outcome.
Religion and Spirituality as Coping Mechanisms
Most Americans believe in a higher power, whether they call it God or something else. Spirituality and religion are important to most people, and there are many reasons to seek God after cancer or mesothelioma diagnosis.
Spiritual practice can reduce anxiety and depression and help patients come to terms with their physical limitations and their mortality.
While religion and spirituality are not the same, both positively impact those living with cancer. Belief in God and an association with organized religion can be powerful tools for coping with the reality of cancer.
A serious illness like mesothelioma can naturally lead to spiritual distress. Someone newly diagnosed may begin to doubt their faith; however, those who find solace in their religious beliefs and practices find it a lifeline for difficult times to come.
A Connection to Religion Improves Mental Health
One report analyzing multiple studies of cancer patients and religious beliefs found that spirituality and faith positively impact mental health. Cancer patients with faith in God or some other higher power experienced lower stress, anxiety, and depression.
The study also found the opposite was true. Cancer patients who felt disconnected from God, or felt spiritual distress, were more likely to suffer mental health problems. A connection to religion and spirituality is an important way cancer patients can find peace in times of despair.
Patients with Faith Report Better Physical Health
Another recent study published in the journal Cancer reported that patients with strong spiritual or religious beliefs are physically healthier than those who do not rely on faith.
The study compared different types of psychological and spiritual reactions patients had to living with cancer. Some patients were angry, feeling like they were being punished; however, patients who found a sense of peace and transcendence about their cancer reported feeling better physically.
This was an extensive study, including over 32,000 patients with various types of cancer. The link between spiritual well-being and physical health was strong.
The study did not examine how spirituality affected survival, but it did find faith has a powerful effect on physical well-being, health, and comfort.
Patients with belief in a higher power or a sense of spirituality experienced fewer symptoms from their cancer and treatments. Patients with religion or spirituality were also able to continue performing daily chores and activities.
Faith as Social Support
In the above study, researchers hypothesized that social support might play a role in fostering the connection between health and spirituality.
They suggested people with strong faith are more likely to have a strong social support system. This network of people not only provides spiritual support. A spiritual network can also offer practical help in the form of meals, chores, and rides to medical appointments.
People who attend church or other religious services regularly have a built-in social network. Social support is a powerful way to cope with illness. Religious groups tend to gather around those in their communities who need help and support, especially those battling cancer.
Religious Belief and Cancer Survival Rates
Other studies are delving into how religion can impact survival. One specific study found that when older adults with or without cancer attended regular religious services, they had lower levels of Interleukin-6, a chemical implicated in tumor growth.
These older adults also had stronger immune systems, an important factor in battling cancer. Other studies have found a similar connection between spirituality and immune health, influencing survival and longevity.
Although research is limited regarding spiritually active cancer patients and life expectancy, some studies show faith improves physical health, which could lengthen survival.
How to Embrace Your Faith While Living with Mesothelioma
Whether you have always had a religious life or not, learning you have cancer can bring about a spiritual crisis. This is a good time to explore your faith and find ways to use spirituality and religion to cope with a terrible diagnosis.
- Traditional Services. Many patients find comfort in traditional religious services. This includes attending services at your usual place of worship or finding somewhere new. If you cannot leave home or are in the hospital, you might have access to services broadcast on television or online.
- Spiritual Leaders. Another option is to consult one-on-one with a religious or spiritual leader you trust. These individual conversations can provide important support and bring comfort to many patients. A priest or other type of religious figure can answer your questions and provide some solace during a difficult time.
- Prayer and Quiet Reflection. Many patients enjoy the quiet and focus of prayer sessions. It does not have to be traditional prayer. Meditation and quiet reflection are also useful.
- Alternative Practices. Whether you have been part of a traditional religion or not, you might want to explore alternative spiritual practices during this difficult time. You can consult with a practitioner or read and try new things on your own. Consider yoga, meditation, reading, mindfulness, journaling, grounding, and alternative and energy therapies.
Faith and spirituality are not easy to measure; however, people who believe in God and belong to a religious community fare better when diagnosed with cancer, including mesothelioma. It can be easy to lose faith in the face of a cancer diagnosis, but having faith can have a powerful and positive impact.Get Your FREE Mesothelioma Packet
Page Medically Reviewed and Edited by Anne Courtney, AOCNP, DNP
Anne Courtney has a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree and is an Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Practitioner. She has years of oncology experience working with patients with malignant mesothelioma, as well as other types of cancer. Dr. Courtney currently works at University of Texas LIVESTRONG Cancer Institutes.