The Role of the Chaplain in Cancer Treatment

Last Modified: January 7, 2013


When I was in the hospital for lung cancer surgery and then with complications of treatment, I had a wonderful chaplain who provided me great support. I am glad to see a chaplain on your panel and would like to hear her thoughts on her role with the person with cancer. Also wondering, how many hospitals/cancer centers have chaplains available? Not everyone has a spiritual home to call on for support.


Kava Schafer, MDiv, MA, Chaplain at Penn Medicine responds:

First, I am appreciative that a chaplain came to you during your stay in the hospital and that you felt that it helped you. It is so true that not everyone has a spiritual home to call on during illness. In my work with people living with cancer inside the hospital, I respond in many different ways and often, I take my cue from the person I encounter. This may not be your experience, but often spirits flag for a variety of reasons. Long hospital stays, complications during treatment, pain, procedures; the list goes on.

Chaplains do encourage, but we also are there to be present with any emotion that arises. Some emotions are more pleasant to experience than others, but we are open to any strong emotion because often we feel that the expression of it may help a person to heal. Ups and downs are common and we hope to normalize a range of emotions so folks know they are not unusual and feelings can and do shift when we give voice to them. Pain in isolation is harder to be borne than pain that is shared.

Certainly, chaplains are present in a great number of institutions throughout the country, but it is not always the case as sometimes there are places where the funding or the will to provide this service does not exist. Fortunately, at HUP, this is not the case. We have a strong commitment to interfaith presence throughout our hospital. We also support people of no particular religious affiliation. We support all human beings in their journeys through illness, if we are invited in.

This question and answer was part of the OncoLink Brown Bag Chat Series. View the entire transcript from the Focus on Lung Cancer Webchat.


Webucation: Lung Cancer Screening
by Carolyn Vachani, MSN, RN, AOCN
February 26, 2015