Cancer treatments have improved significantly over the last several decades, and many people are now living with cancer, rather than dying of it. Still, the treatment process can be long and disheartening, so it should come as no surprise that, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 69% of cancer patients pray for their health. And, across demographics, prayer is just one mind-body approach to cancer treatment.
Mind-body medicine aims to counter the psychological impact of cancer on the body and some studies suggest it leads to materially better health, but the most important aspect of mind-body medicine is that it can improve patients’ quality of life. From the patients’ perspective, such a holistic approach also allows them to hold tight to something familiar and comforting in the face of the fear and anxiety wrought by cancer treatment.
Cancer And Christian Faith
Though there are some Christian groups that resist modern medical care, a closer look at scripture readily reveals that medical care is an integral part of our faith tradition. The key is not to push God aside in the worship of health and medicine – and even modern medicine supports this perspective.
In a 2017 study published in PLoS One, regular church attendance correlated with a decreased risk of death over an 18-year follow-up period. And a similar 2016 study in JAMA Internal Medicine showed comparable results in women; women who regularly participated in worship were 33% less likely to die over a 16-year period compared to non-churchgoing female peers.
Mastering The Mind
Of course, mind-body medicine goes beyond prayer, and it can be beneficial for cancer patients to learn new strategies to cope with their health issues. At the Gawler Cancer Foundation, for example, cancer retreat participants are taught coping skills that can enhance their natural ability to heal, build support networks of other patients, and are taught an overall framework meditation, gentle exercise, nutrition, and positive thinking designed to make their medical journal more manageable.
One activity that fits well into the framework taught at Gawler and that offers multiple benefits to cancer patients is yoga. Yoga is meditative, but also incorporates stretching and strengthening. Research suggests yoga can reduce stress and anxiety in cancer patients, improve their quality of sleep, and reduce daytime fatigue, a common side effect of chemotherapy. Other activities like progressive muscle relaxation and visualization meditations can also minimize the physical impact of stress on the body.
Quality Over Quantity
Though cancer treatment has improved in the last several decades, the majority of new drugs no longer increase survival time. Instead, these treatments soothe side effects, fight infections that plague vulnerable immune systems, or simply change a protocol without making other meaningful changes. Still, patients expect these new treatments to be wonder drugs and treatment’s failure to meet those expectations can do more harm than good.
To manage this struggle, patients need to emphasize quality of life over the length of it remaining – and this is why spirituality and mind-body medicine matters. The idea is to enjoy whatever life you have in you, whether that’s days or years. It is possible to thrive with cancer, but that requires us to look beyond mainstream medicine and dig deep inside ourselves.