Of the many things that assisted me through my healthcare journey, I have to say that my faith helped me the most. I have not talked about this before because it is personal. However, recently, I have been thinking about how important my faith was to me during my healthcare journey, that I wanted to share a few thoughts on this topic as it might help patients and caregivers consider the value of Faith and Spirituality in managing life’s challenges.
As I progressed on my journey, I realize that I took my faith for granted till I was diagnosed with a Central Nervous System Brain Tumor. I would go to church, say my prayers, try to live my life as a ‘good Catholic.’ However, it was not till I got sick that I realized how important my faith was and how much courage I received from my faith. I needed to know that there was, a higher power if you will, that I could turn things over as I had no control. Because of my faith, I believed turning to God would give me strength to face the challenges of fighting cancer. I gained peace of mind from the prayers I said and were said for me by family and friends.
When I was in the hospital, I looked forward to the visits from the Catholic priest from Camillus House who was assigned to Sylvester Cancer Center. He made rounds on the patients who had asked to see him. I learned about the opportunity to see a priest, from the Unit Secretary who worked on the floor I resided for my chemotherapy. She said if you want to see the priest, call the operator and give her your name and room number. That way she will put you on the list, and the priest will see you when he makes rounds. The priest did come to visit me several times during my various stays. We had good conversations that lifted my spirits and helped me see some of my fears more clearly which helped me cope better.
When I was home, I received Communion from the team of Eucharistic Ministers from my church, St. Gregory the Great. By calling the Parish office and putting my name on the list, it allowed the team who coordinated home visits to know that I was requesting a Euchuristic Minister to visit and receive Communion as I could not get to Mass. I looked forward to them coming, talking with them and taking a minute to say a pray. It was comforting, and I am thankful for the opportunity they provided to turn my attention away from myself and focus on my faith.
In doing research for this post, I read about Victor Frankl, a psychiatrist who wrote of his experiences in a Nazi concentration camp. He shared: “Man is not destroyed by suffering; he is destroyed by suffering without meaning” My faith gave me meaning and helped me cope with the challenges my husband and I were facing. One of the challenges all involved in healthcare face is trying to help people find meaning and acceptance in the midst of their suffering. Experts, remind us that religion and spirituality form the basis of meaning and purpose for many people.
So many people struggle with the physical aspects of their disease, yet when we are faced with our mortality, we are faced with mental and spiritual suffering as we try to find answers to some of the deepest questions of life. Some may ask: Why is this happening to me now? What will happen to me after I die? Will my family survive my loss? Will I be missed? Will I be remembered? Is there a God? If so, will he be there for me?
I remember a conversation I had with a friend via email as I was trying to rationalize how and why I got a brain tumor. Here is a snippet of our e- conversation: Take a minute to ponder her words.
How does illness happen? Why does illness happen? The ‘why’ and the ‘how’ are connected. Medicine can give us their best interpretations but rarely know ‘how’ we become ill and even more importantly ‘why’ we become ill. Since illness is our experience, we must answer these questions for ourselves. The author’s position is grounded in the psycho-somatic connection that we rarely live in until we are sick. Illness demands our attention and maturity. We are called to become our own healers. What we thought were important changes. What we thought was urgently becomes less demanding. Our indispensability becomes humorous. Our isolation is broken by our dependence on others. We change because the world is the same, but different. We are humbled! Illness that threatens our life can actually save our life if we go-within to become our own healer.
If you are a patient reading this post, take some time and reconnect with your faith. Take time to reach out to your place of worship and request a visit or to be put on the prayer list. Take the time to read thought provoking books allows you time to explore your feelings, your joys, your fears, and uncertainties. Doing so allows you to unburden yourself so you can cope better with the challenges and uncertainty you face.
If you are a patient, I hope this post gives you the inspiration to explore your faith and experience the healing power it can bring.
If you are a healthcare professional reading this post, take time to talk to your patients and their caregivers about their faith and provide the privacy they need to practice their faith.
Thank you for reading this week’s post in Nurse Advocate! Sending positive thoughts to you and yours.