This post originally appeared on the Wilshire Baptist Church page on Facebook.
Name. Date of diagnosis. Treatment plan. Date treatment ended. And hopefully, date cured. This is often the pattern that occurs at the beginning of a cancer support group when members are introducing themselves. After introductions, aches and pains are often discussed. Most of the time there is more laughter in a cancer support group than a lot of people realize.
Yet it almost never fails that someone, usually a new member, brings up the mental and spiritual toll cancer treatment exacts from an individual and his or her family. And whether other members are newly diagnosed or 12 years from diagnosis, there is a unison nodding of heads and unintelligible voiced agreement. Some cancer survivors have even said the mental and physical part of survivorship is more difficult than the actual treatment.
I’m not sure one can actually separate the physical toll from the spiritual and emotional tolls, but everyone understands in the group that even when treatment stops, the mental and spiritual struggles may continue for quite some time. One member recently said he learned this week that although he is in remission and life is good, he always will be a cancer survivor and a large portion of his meaningful stories are connected to his diagnosis and survival.
As we go through trials that test physical strength it is important to acknowledge the rest of our beings need strengthening as well. One support group member found emotional strength by going to a therapist. Another’s physician recommended anxiety medications to help her through an extremely difficult section of her treatment. When it comes to the struggles that were more spiritual in nature, most were a little stumped on how to deal with the “Why me?” and the “Where is God?” questions. Even those who credited their churches with helping them get through the roughest spots still needed extra assistance at some point in their journeys with cancer.
I think humans struggle spiritually during these times not because we are weak but because the spiritual questions hit us deeper than the physical and mental ones. There is a doctor to treat our physical symptoms. We have therapists to help us with mental stress. We have ministers, trained lay people and mentors to help us with the spiritual questions, but the spiritual questions originate in a deeper place within us. And many of the people I listen to at the hospital also know those questions of a spiritual nature aren’t easily answered. They don’t need ministers or doctors to tell them this. The experts, those who are surviving a crisis, largely appreciate a listening ear and the recognition, not ignoring, of the seriousness of their crises, especially by those closest to them.
This blog post was contributed by Alan Wright, chaplain at the Baylor Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center