When a person is experiencing a serious illness, it’s not just their body that’s affected. The entire being — from the spiritual to emotional — can be impacted. This can be particularly true for individuals navigating a cancer diagnosis and treatment. It is not uncommon for people to experience a crisis of faith, to feel disconnected from their religious community or loved ones, or to feel that it is hard to talk about the way their outlook on life may be changing. Some people may feel isolated, angry or overwhelmed. Others may have a renewed sense of meaning or faith. No matter the experience, it can be helpful for people living with cancer to connect with their own spiritual life as a way of coping with their illness.
What is Spiritual Health?
Simply put, spiritual health is the quality of whole-person wellness – including spiritual and emotional wellness.
People have different ideas about what gives them meaning, their deepest values, and religious beliefs, which may affect decisions they make relating to treatment. These values can also impact decision-making about end-of-life care. Even common health issues can bring up spiritual concerns, and patients and family members may benefit from exploring the way their broader life is affected when they experience illness. Some patients and their family caregivers want doctors to talk about spiritual concerns, but feel unsure about how to bring up the subject.
Spiritual Health at Winship Cancer Institute is here to help patients connect with what they value most, to what gives them meaning in life — whether that’s a particular faith, religious or spiritual practice, meditation, cherished pastime, or loving connection to community, family and friends.
Our Spiritual Health clinicians are available to talk to anyone and everyone, regardless of their religious identity. We provide an open, supportive and compassionate presence. This can happen at any point of a person’s cancer journey – at the time of diagnosis, during treatment, or when returning for follow-up care. The Spiritual Health clinicians at Winship Cancer Institute will not impose any belief, but will be present to listen, understand and help you connect with what you value.
In recent years, there have been studies to investigate the benefits of spiritual health. The results support the importance of spiritual health in giving a renewed sense of hope, self-worth and meaning.
How Can I Attend to My Spiritual Health?
Ultimately, a person’s spirituality is a part of their own personal journey. What works best for one person may not work for another. Spiritual health clinicians can talk with you to help you find or strengthen a spiritual connection to whatever it is you believe or find of value.
For some, engaging spirituality may include prayer, attending a religious service, spending time outdoors or daily meditation. The first step is to identify what’s important to you and asking yourself questions such as “What gives me meaning?” and “What do I value most?”
These questions may be difficult to answer at first, but spending time thinking about what you value most can help you find and strengthen a path to spiritual wellness.
Ask for Help
Spiritual clinicians are also available to talk with any patient or caregiver at Winship Cancer Institute. Visit our website if you’d like to talk with someone from our spiritual health team.
To learn more, listen to the Spiritual Health podcast.
About Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University
Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University is Georgia’s only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, a prestigious distinction given to the top 3% of cancer centers nationwide for conducting cancer research and providing training that is transforming cancer care, prevention, detection and survivorship. Winship discovers, develops, delivers and teaches some of the world’s most effective ways to prevent, detect, diagnose and treat each patient’s unique cancer. Cancer care at Winship includes specialists with deep expertise and experience in cancer; multidisciplinary evaluation, treatment planning and care coordination that caters to each patient’s individual needs; therapies supported by the latest advances in cancer research; and comprehensive clinical trials and support services.
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.