The Spiritual Side of Cancer Treatment

A cancer diagnosis is nothing short of overwhelming.

In addition to concerns about coordinating treatment for the physical condition, emotions brew in the patient and family members. Fear, anger, and a feeling of being alone are common reactions.

When facing cancer, one mustn’t neglect the spiritual side of treatment.

Caroline Peacock, LCSW, MDiv, Manager of Spiritual Health at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University, shares the importance of having someone to talk to about the spiritual side of the cancer diagnosis. “We believe in supporting the whole person in their care. Having a spiritual health clinician attend to the patient and family members helps them to know we care about all of them—all of their personhood—and that we want to support them in comprehensive care.”

Spiritual Doubts & Faith Crises

Many cancer patients experience an urge to be strong and put on a brave face. It’s tough to express one’s spiritual doubts and emotions to friends and family. A spiritual health clinician can serve as a pressure valve, allowing patients to express the suffering and angst they may not be able to comfortably share with friends or family.

“If a person has a particular faith background or spirituality he or she ascribes to, we support that individual in the expression of that spirituality. It can really help patients cope when they’re going through a terribly difficult time like this,” explains Peacock.

Spiritual health clinicians don’t prescribe a particular religious practice but rather help individuals connect to what gives them hope and a sense of connection. For those with a specific faith, community leaders in that faith are accessible to visit and provide spiritual support.

Cancer may also prompt a crisis of faith. Spiritual health clinicians make space to explore these crises by acknowledging how confusing and frightening the diagnosis may be.

“Patients can then further explore how difficult it is to be undergoing this crisis of faith and it allows them to come to their own answer within their own framework for how they understand their situation,” says Peacock.

Spiritual health clinicians willingly listen when patients experience spiritual struggles tied to their cancer diagnosis. Patients receive non-judgmental support, and can even explore some of the thoughts that may feel difficult to bring up in a religious context.

Patient-to-Patient Care

An interesting form of spiritual support can occur between patients. “When two patients are receiving treatment right next to each other in the waiting room or family resource center they often strike up conversations. It’s not uncommon for each to become a source of support,” explains Peacock. “It’s sometimes easier to reveal your emotional and spiritual concerns to someone who is facing similar circumstances.”

A Team Approach

Spiritual help is not just available for patients, but for family members as well. It’s important for all involved in the cancer recovery to find support within their own structure. Visit our website if you’d like to talk with someone from our spiritual health team.

Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University

Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University is the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Comprehensive Cancer Center for Georgia, the highest designation given by the NCI to cancer centers in the nation. Winship offers expertise in cancer research, prevention, detection and treatment with the most advanced therapies. Winship is where you get treatments years before others can. Our expert team coordinates every detail of your visit to meet your individualized treatment plan. Visit emoryhealthcare.org/cancer or call 1-888-WINSHIP for an appointment.

 

About Caroline Peacock, LCSW, MDiv

Caroline Peacock, LCSW, MDiv, is the Manager of Spiritual Health and Community Care for the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University. She is a Certified Associate Educator with the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education, an ordained Episcopal priest, and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She has been with Emory Healthcare since 2013, where she received her training as a spiritual health educator. Prior to training in Spiritual Health, she worked as a clinical social worker in New York City. Caroline has a passion for offering compassionate, respectful, and effective patient/family-centered care in a multi-faith, multi-cultural environment. She has a Master of Divinity from General Theological Seminary, and a Master of Social Work from City University of New York Hunter College.

To listen to an interview with Caroline Peacock, LCSW, MDiv, Spiritual Health Manager at Winship Cancer Institue of Emory University, please follow this link: http://www.emoryhealthcare.org/podcasts/index.html?segitem=36546

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