Spirituality and cancer

The information on this page can help you to find out more about spirituality and cancer.

Having cancer can make us to think about the bigger things in life, and this may include searching for meaning, questioning or being angry. 

You may be looking for spiritual support. This can be from family and friends, your local community, a hospital chaplain or other religious leader.  

Other ways of connecting with your spirituality include music, nature, poetry, art,  meditation and mindfulness.

Living with cancer can sometimes raise big questions, and we may rely on a number of coping strategies. Whilst formal religion has declined over recent years many people still turn to spiritual support at a time of crisis.

Put simply, religion is an organised  set of beliefs and practices a group of people follow, based on divinity and faith. There are many different religions. Meanwhile, spirituality is the sense of being part of something greater than ourselves, giving meaning and purpose in our lives.

Many people have spiritual needs. These are influenced by personal values, beliefs and relationships. You may find you have questions, be angry with, or draw closer to a faith or spiritual support system.  This could be particularly with end of life issues, but can happen during any part of living with cancer. 

Nurses and doctors, especially in cancer and palliative care, (but in caring situations generally) aim to be sensitive to spiritual needs and distress. Religion can be a very personal topic, and so if it is important to you, please let your healthcare teams know. 

Sometimes, anxiety and depression can be partly due to spiritual questions and a search for meaning. Here are some ways to recognise spiritual needs, and how to address them.

Finding ways to cope spiritually

  • If your faith is important to you or you would like to draw closer to the religious part of spirituality, you could visit your local church or religious centre. Being part of something organised and spiritually uplifting can help at a time of crisis.
  • You can connect with your spirituality through the arts, meditation, nature, personal reflection and talking with others.  Exploring new hobbies, finding ways to express yourself, and connecting with others can help give meaning and purpose.
  • Practice or develop new skills that help with relaxation, mindfulness, and creative therapies. Visit your local Maggie’s centre, for example, and find out what is available, in terms of relaxation, therapies, support and a sense of community.
  • Talk with someone who can identify your spiritual needs. You may have big questions or be struggling with ‘why me?’ and ‘why now?  This may be through your place of worship, the hospital chaplain, or religious leader.  These could be questions you feel able to ask your healthcare team, or at .
  • Recognise that the thoughts, feelings and emotions you’re experiencing are likely to be a mixture of psychological and spiritual issues. The sources of support you access for one can often overlap. Talking about how you feel, with people who understand, can help you feel heard and less isolated.
  • Many people with cancer, when asked about what is important to them, said that family and friends gave their life meaning. Making time for those close to you, and valuing quality time with people you love, can often seem more important when living with cancer.

When to seek further help

If you’re finding that thoughts, feelings and emotions are making you worried, and low in mood - talk to someone. The issues you face may have a spiritual component, but your doctor will be able to recognise what is normal for you - and whether you are becoming depressed or need further help.

If you’re angry, or are struggling with your faith and spirituality, it can help to talk with a local chaplain, church or religious leader. Hospital and hospice chaplains recognise spiritual distress, and aim to listen, whichever faith they belong to. 

Visit your local Maggie’s and talk with others who will understand that you are struggling - recognising that cancer has raised big questions for you.

What now?

Read through our links and blogs on this page to find out more about managing spiritual distress, and building up your emotional resilience.

Visit your local Maggie’s centre, where you can meet others who understand what you’re going through, and share your story.

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