October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. All of us know someone whose life has been touched by this disease. There are currently 2.5 million breast cancer survivors in the United States, with nearly 200,000 new diagnoses of breast cancer each year, including 2,000 men who are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. Breast cancer survivors need many kinds of support. In addition to the best medical care, they need strong emotional and spiritual support from their families, friends, colleagues and faith communities. To that end, there have been many recent studies that confrim the importance of spirituality in supporting the whole-person wellness of people with breast cancer.
A 2006 study that was published in The Oncology Nursing Forum (Vol. 33, No 1) backs up the belief that a strong spiritual life is a great support when a person has cancer. The study assessed both the patients' sense of “a clear meaning in life” and whether or not they had a regular practice of praying. Here are some of the conclusions from this study:
Having meaning in life and practicing prayer are associated with greater psychological well-being during cancer.
- Meaning in life mediates the effects of breast cancer on well-being.
- Aspects of spirituality, such as meaning in life and prayer, lessen the impact of breast cancer.
These results support what I have witnessed first hand in my thirty years of ministry. Just as a tree with a strong root system can better weather a strong storm, a person with a strong spiritual life is better able to survive the storm of breast cancer or any other adversity. While the best time to develop a strong spiritual root system is long before a storm arrives, I have seen many people deepen their spiritual roots right in the middle of a storm in their lives.
If you know someone whose life has been touched by breast cancer, take this annual reminder to reach out and support them and maybe share with them the poem below . It came to my to attention when it was shared by a friend at the time of my father's diagnosis of cancer earlier this year. It is a great reminder that cancer does not have the final word! These words remind us that cancer can not take away much of what is precious in life and that our spirits can be well when our bodies are not.
What Cancer Cannot Do (Author Unknown)
Cancer is so limited... It cannot cripple love. It cannot shatter hope. It cannot corrode faith. It cannot eat away peace. It cannot destroy confidence. It cannot kill friendship. It cannot shut out memories. It cannot silence courage. It cannot reduce eternal life. It cannot quench the Spirit.