A cancer diagnosis not only impacts our physical bodies and sense of well-being, but it certainly can have a profound impact on our understanding of and connection to the larger themes and meaning one finds in life—namely one’s spirituality.
Webster’s first definition of “heal,” is “to make sound or whole.” How can we talk about healing in a serious way without addressing all those components of our wholeness? Attending to the spirit is the role of the inter-faith chaplain and chaplain intern at the Simms/Mann-UCLA Center for integrative Oncology. So what does that look like—tending to one’s spirit? What does spirituality even mean?
The Latin root of the word—spiritus… only means breath. What is it that breathes life into your life? What is it that gives your life meaning, what is it that makes you get up and face the day… that makes it worth your while, worth fighting for? For some that would be religious tradition, community or ritual. For others it may be a more personal relationship to God or a higher power, and for some it might be their family, their dog, their work, a good round of golf or surfing the perfect wave! For some it may be a place where they can feel that greater connection to the larger circle of life—be it the seashore, a forest, or the Thanksgiving dinner table. A diagnosis of cancer can certainly mess with all of that! Perhaps the very thing that used to give my life meaning now seems meaningless, or I don’t seem to have access to it in the same way. I might have to find a new meaning, or at least a new pathway to connect to the old one.
The spiritual care team at the Simms/Mann Center provides a compassionate presence, walking beside those on the cancer journey—be it the one diagnosed, or the loved one, friend or caregiver. Our chaplains can hold the space of calm while offering a deep kind of listening as those bigger questions of the spirit are explored. But spiritual care and support needn’t always look so heavy or ponderous either. Sometimes we need to be anchored into our new reality of the cancer diagnosis with a firm connection to those parts of ourselves that don’t have cancer—connecting to a slice of normalcy. Spiritual care might look like being able to talk about one’s recent vacation or the funny thing my dog did over the weekend, helping to pass the time while getting chemotherapy. Spiritual care might also be connecting or reconnecting to one’s faith tradition, sharing a favorite scripture, poem, or saying a prayer together.
The Simms/Mann Spiritual Care Team provides the following services:
- Spiritual support in the infusion clinics, while receiving treatment
- Individual spiritual support/counseling by appointment
- Telephone support to those who may be homebound or for whom getting to the Center is difficult
- Support in accompanying a patient or family member to an appointment with a doctor
- Circle of Reflection is a group that meets monthly at the Center, facilitated by the chaplain. Each month there is a focus on a particular spiritual theme or topic. The group is open to patients and family members and is welcoming to those of all beliefs.
- The Spiritual Care Team works closely and in tandem with the Psychosocial Team at the Center. Sometimes joint sessions with another member of the team are helpful.