Tips in a Minute: Addressing Spiritual Concerns Across the Cancer Continuum

OncoLink Team
Last Modified: May 28, 2014

OncoLink Tip in a Minute

What is spirituality?

  • The ways individuals seek and express meaning and purpose.
  • How individuals experience connectedness to a moment, to their being, to their relationships, to the world around them, to the sacred and to god/higher power.
  • Highly individual.
  • Expressed in many ways including:
    • Attending organized religious/spiritual services or activities
    • Prayer
    • Meditation
    • Creative expression (i.e. music, art)

Serious illness can change the way we answer "the big questions."

  • Who am I?
  • What is life all about?
  • Do I have a purpose?
  • Why am I here?
  • Why is this happening to me?
  • Why is there suffering?

Asking questions about the meaning and purpose of life is a universal experience – and it is okay!

  • Questioning happens regardless of religious or spiritual beliefs and practices.
  • Some individuals put these questions into a religious or spiritual context.

What are some common spiritual concerns when facing a cancer diagnosis/treatment?

  • Mortality
    • Am I going to die?
  • Identity
    • Who am I?
    • What is important to me?
    • What will I become?
    • What does life mean to me?
  • Loss, grief and mourning:
    • Loss is common throughout the cancer experience:
      • Loss of ability to work
      • Loss of hair
      • Loss of appetite
      • Loss of energy
      • Loss of fertility
      • Loss of life
    • Spirituality and religion can help us grieve for that which is lost.
    • Spirituality and religion can also help us discover what can be gained.
  • Maintaining Hope
    • Maintaining optimism
    • Miracles
    • Re-framing hope: If cure or control is not possible, what is the next best thing to hope for?

What are some symptoms of spiritual distress?

  • Concern with the meaning of life and death and/or belief system.
  • Anger towards God/the Ultimate (as defined by the individual).
  • Questioning the meaning of suffering.
  • Verbalizing inner conflicts about beliefs.
  • Verbalizing concern about relationship with God/ the 'Ultimate' (as defined by the individual).
  • Questioning the meaning of one's own existence.
  • Changing usual religious or spiritual practices.
  • Displacement of anger onto religious/spiritual support persons, caregivers, and family members.
  • Increased anger, crying, hostility, withdrawal and apathy.
  • Viewing illness as a punishment.

What are the benefits of addressing spiritual concerns and incorporating spiritual practices into my cancer care plan?

  • Can assist with adjustment to your cancer diagnosis and its treatment.
  • Increases quality of life.
  • Provides a sense of strength and belonging.
  • Highlights the potential for growth.
  • Provides a positive outlet for hope.
  • Helps to address "unfinished business" and repair fractured relationships.
  • Provides an opportunity for life review.
  • Offers a sense of inner peace.

Who can help me address spiritual or religious distress in my cancer experience?

  • A religious leader from a church, mosque, synagogue or other institution.
  • A spiritual guide.
  • A chaplain at your treatment center.
  • Other healthcare team members including your doctor, nurses and social worker.
  • Your family and friends.


Click on any of these terms for more related articles


Focus on Spirituality [Webinar]
by OncoLink Editorial Team
April 29, 2014

Catherine and Finn
by OncoLink Editorial Team
December 01, 2015

Related News

Religion, Spirituality May Enhance Health in Cancer Patients

Aug 10, 2015

Three reviews show correlations with measures of physical, mental, and social health outcomes

No Training Means Spiritual Care Lacking in Advanced Cancer

Dec 21, 2012

For nurses and physicians, receipt of training increases likelihood of spiritual care provision

Spiritual Care Often Benefits Terminally Ill Cancer Patients

Dec 1, 2015

Study finds support of spiritual needs increases hospice use and improves quality of life

From the National Cancer Institute