HOW RELIGION AND SPIRITUALITY CAN HELP ANDREW KNEIER, PHD, AND JEFFERY SILBERMAN
THE diagnosis of cancer confronts us with the fact that we are vulnerable to disease and suffering, that we are mortal and that our time is limited. When we are in good health, these realities often reside at the back of our minds; but when a serious illness strikes, they surge forward and challenge us.
They challenge us especially with the question of whether we are using our time wisely. This question is linked to what our time is for- to what our life is all about. For many, these questions take on a central and compelling importance, which is why cancer is commonly referred to as a wake- up call.
Usually the most pressing priority when we are faced with the diagnosis of cancer is to regain our good health; if we succeed, the implications of our mortality might once again slip into the background.
Sometimes the illness is regarded as only a temporary bump in the road of life, as opposed to a stark reminder of lifes fragility. But more often than not, cancer has a way of capturing our attention, deepening our reflection on what is important and causing us to live with more awareness of ultimate priorities.
Patients who are fighting for their lives can be strengthened and sustained by a clear vision of what they want to survive for. Many talk of surviving for the sake of their families, to meet certain life goals and to fulfill certain inner potentials or strivings.
Whatever a persons answer, it reflects deeply held religious, spiritual or philosophical beliefs about what is important and why.
As cancer patients reflect on their ultimate priorities, they often identify changes that they wish to make in themselves or their life. This is often referred to as the enlightenment of cancer or the gift of cancer.
Countless patients have commented that they regret that it took a cancer diagnosis to wake them up and capture their attention, but they feel that many positive and overdue changes in themselves and their life have resulted from it.
In making these changes, these patients have found some positive meaning in their illness.