Dan McGill


Question: What can our spiritual care providers do to help cancer patients?

A serious illness, such as cancer, can rock your world, affecting your very identity. “How did this happen?” “Who am I?” “What do I believe?” “How is my family going to handle this?” are just a few of the questions that we can ask ourselves.

Even a stage one cancer diagnosis can send chills up our spine. The question becomes, “How do I find solid ground again?” This is that place of peace where decisions can be made and a sense of control is regained. Family, friends and personal spiritual or religious beliefs can all help in this process.

In an effort to determine how to better help patients diagnosed with cancer have better outcomes, research began including how spiritual beliefs and/or religious practices could make a difference. The findings have been very helpful and shown that, yes, they can make a difference, not just for the patient, but for their family as well.

Much of the research has shown that spirituality and religious beliefs can be very important in helping someone process and make decisions about treatments and next steps. It is important to note that not all individuals have the same belief system.

Our world consists of many different religions, philosophies, spiritual practices, but whether you are an atheist, a Christian, Buddhist and so on, all of us have the ability to tap into that place where we find meaning that is based on our personal belief system and the tools we utilize to bring peace, hope and renewal into our lives.

This is the place where we are able to find strength in the midst of change and challenges in our lives. This is the grounding for spiritual beliefs and practices each of us can grab hold of. For many, it involves regular spiritual practices, faith beliefs and a religious community. For all it is that place of renewal and strength to keep going.

Spiritual practices may help patients who have been given a cancer diagnosis and their families find deeper meaning and experience a sense of personal growth during cancer treatment, while living with cancer, and as a cancer survivor. Patients who rely on their faith or spirituality tend to experience increased hope and optimism, freedom from regret, higher satisfaction with life and feelings of inner peace.

In addition, patients who practice a religious tradition or are in touch with their personal spirituality tend to be more compliant with treatment and live a healthier lifestyle. Studies have also shown that spirituality can have a direct impact on quality of life by contributing to physical health. Among the benefits reported are decreased feelings of anxiety, loneliness, alcohol usage, as well as lowered blood pressure, better control of pain, nausea and discomfort.

However, for some, the initial reaction to a cancer diagnosis may challenge that person in such a way that they question all they have believed, producing an opposite effect on their sense of spirituality. They doubt their religious or spiritual beliefs, religious values and may become angry with God.

Spiritual distress can make it harder for patients to cope with cancer (or any serious illness) and its treatment. This is where a spiritual care provider (chaplain and/or spiritual leader) can make a difference and help a person work through the feelings of betrayal, anger, fear, sadness, etc. Having someone listen as you share your doubts, fears and anger can be very therapeutic. Expressing feelings of shaken belief to someone can be very helpful in restoring faith.

Join us at 5 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 10, in the Mission Hope Cancer Center Conference Room, for a community presentation to learn about how our chaplain can “come along side” to help cancer patients, their families and caregivers through their cancer journey.

Dan McGill, chaplain, spiritual care for Dignity Health Hospitals of the Central Coast, focuses his work on helping patients and families find strength, meaning and hope.

This informal discussion will explore spirituality and practical things to stay in touch with loved ones using this dimension of ourselves when words or conversation are not possible. The presentation will use stories and examples as well as listening to participants to explore the infinite ways we can stay in touch with our Valentines. Reservations are required as space is limited. Call 805-219-HOPE (4673) to make a reservation.

HAVE A QUESTION? This weekly column produced by Marian Regional Medical Center, Cancer Program invites you to submit your questions to “Your Cancer Answers” at the following email address: MHCC@commonspirit.org



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