What Role Does Faith Play in Breast Cancer Recovery?

Faith may influence a breast cancer recovery by helping a person gain a deeper understanding of their life’s meaning and purpose.

Since the beginning of human history, religion and medicine have been deeply interconnected. But in recent decades, these concepts have started moving further apart—it’s important to understand what that means for breast cancer patients and survivors.

Until the early 1900s, medicine could be practiced by just about anyone. As you might expect, results weren’t that great. Before medical texts were available and licensing boards were established, members of the clergy were often called upon to perform the dual role of spiritual advisor and physician. Thankfully, as better methods for addressing disease were discovered, they replaced antiquated approaches, so these practices did not last.

As medicine and religion grew apart, physicians were empowered to focus on their roles as physiological healers while clergy members left medicine behind to focus on spiritual health. But is it possible that this separation has downsides? Could faith play an integral role in healing? As a survivor, I believe the answer to both of these questions is yes.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the second most common cancer among women (behind skin cancer) is breast cancer. The odds of a woman receiving a breast cancer diagnosis, according to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, are one in eight. Those odds are staggering.

For many women diagnosed with breast cancer, treatment options will include one or more of the following: Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, hormone replacement therapy, physical therapy, immunotherapy, reconstruction and clinical trials. It’s a long and intimidating list.

Many oncologists focus solely on their patients’ physical needs, addressing each with a specific regimen related to the stage, grade, and severity of the case. But while managing the physical needs of a patient may lead to better health, isn’t a person more than their diagnosis and physical health? What about our spiritual and emotional needs?

When a person is diagnosed with breast cancer, it’s normal for us to become introspective, especially when facing decisions about life and death. And while it’s comforting to know the physical body is being cared for, it’s important to realize we have other needs and they deserve attention too. Spiritual and emotional health count.

As a breast cancer survivor and person of faith, I believe faith has enhanced my breast cancer recovery, providing a powerful source of comfort. While going through surgery and radiation treatment, there were many times I endured extreme pain. Through those trying times, I turned to my faith. As I prayed and read my Bible, I gained new strength, experienced a more positive outlook on life, and found the hope I needed to survive.

Many cancer treatment facilities have begun to recognize the importance of a person’s spiritual wellbeing. With the addition of trained clergy and onsite chapels, patients are able to seek spiritual guidance while receiving medical care. As body, mind, and spirit are addressed in tandem, patients experience a more holistic approach to wellness.

As a five-year survivor, I am a firm believer in the power of prayer and the importance of faith in healing. And while there are no tools to help us measure the power of prayer, I believe that my survival is an indicator that faith has worked for me. Without it, I don’t believe I could have successfully managed my post-cancer journey.

My personal opinion is that patients should be allowed to receive resources for optimal healthcare, including addressing their spiritual needs. Faith should be one of the building blocks upon which a successful recovery is built, if not the very foundation upon which it rests.