Faith and Living with Mesothelioma
Faith in God and a general feeling of spirituality are common among Americans, even in those with major health problems. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 69 percent of patients living with cancer pray for health. This faith may have a real impact on wellness and even survival. Numerous studies have shown that cancer patients with strong faith cope better with being sick, have better mental health, and are physically in better shape. Faith may help religious cancer patients survive longer than those without strong spiritual beliefs.
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 good reasons to turn to God after a cancer or mesothelioma diagnosis. Spiritual coping is one way that people can reduce anxiety and depression, and come to terms with death and the limitation imposed by illness.
While religion and spirituality are not the same, both can have a positive impact on someone living with cancer. A firm belief in God and an association with an organized religion along with some belief in a higher power can be powerful in coping with the reality of cancer.
A serious illness like mesothelioma can lead to spiritual distress. Someone newly diagnosed may suddenly begin to doubt or to lose faith in God and the tenets of religion. But those who keep their faith find it an important tool and lifeline for the difficult times to come.
A Connection to Religion Improves Mental Health
One report that analyzed multiple studies of cancer patients and their religious beliefs found that spirituality and faith have a strong positive impact on mental health. For cancer patients who have faith in God or a higher power, levels of stress, anxiety, and depression were lower. Patients living with cancer, especially an aggressive type of cancer like mesothelioma, are vulnerable to these mental health symptoms, but religion can help combat them, according to this study.
The study also found that the opposite was true: cancer patients who felt disconnected from God, or who felt spiritual distress, were more likely to suffer mental health problems. A connection to religion or some other type of spirituality is an important way that cancer patients can find peace of mind and relief from the despair that comes with being sick.
Patients with Faith Report Better Physical Health
A recent study published in the journal Cancer reported that patients with strong spiritual or religious beliefs are physically healthier as compared to cancer patients who do not rely on faith. The study looked at the different types of psychological and spiritual reactions patients had to living with cancer. While some were mostly angry and felt they were being punished, those who found a sense of peace and transcendence about cancer reported feeling better physically.
The study was large, including over 32,000 patients with various types of cancer. The link between spiritual well-being and a belief in God and physical health and comfort was strong. Although the study did not look at how spirituality affected survival, it did find that faith has a powerful effect on physical well-being, health, and comfort. Patients with some belief in a higher power or sense of spirituality had fewer cancer symptoms and symptoms of treatment and were better able to continue performing daily chores and activities.
Faith as Social Support
In the above study, which found the strong connection between spiritual faith and physical well-being, the researchers hypothesized that social support may play a role in fostering the connection. They suggested that people with strong faith are more likely to have a strong social support system. This network of people provides not just spiritual support, but also practical everyday help in the form of meals, chores, and rides to treatment and doctor appointments.
People who belong to religious groups and attend church or other religious services regularly have a built-in social network. Social support is a powerful way to cope with serious illness and the combination of faith and support is especially helpful. 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
It is very clear from research, and also from individual experiences, that having faith, a belief in God, or being an active member of a religious community can help cancer patients feel better physically and mentally. Some studies are even looking at how religion can impact survival. One, for instance, 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 showed signs of stronger immune systems, an important part of fighting cancer. Other studies have found a similar connection between spirituality and immune health, which positively impacts survival and longevity.
Although research showing cancer patients with spiritual beliefs live longer is limited, there are studies that show faith improves physical health and could lengthen survival. Another such study found that mortality from any source was lower in people who attended religious services regularly. Other studies have found that faith-based communities can help improve cancer survival rates by holding educational and screening events that help members get diagnosed and treated earlier for cancer.
Faith has an elusive power. It is not easy to measure, but people who believe in God, who attend religious services, who are spiritual, and who belong to a religious community, fare better when diagnosed with any type of cancer, including mesothelioma. It can be easy to lose faith during this difficult time, but holding on to belief can have a powerful and positive impact.
Page edited by Dave Foster
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