COPING WITH CANCER: YOUR FAITH MATTERS
Faith has been an integral part of the African descendants’ experience. It has been a channel of coping for people who have gone through lengthy periods of oppression and hardships. Faith has helped many cope with the lack of basic necessities, such as adequate food, shelter and basic healthcare.
People of African ancestry are not unlike other people. Regardless of strength, financial status or social status, a cancer diagnosis will send even the most confident person into a series of emotional states: shock, stress, sadness or depression, loneliness, fear, guilt, disbelief, denial, despair.
These emotions are not only experienced by the person who is diagnosed but also by families and friends. In some cultures, people talk about the diagnosis to their doctors, friends, support groups. But in many African-Caribbean cultures, it is almost taboo to speak about cancer –the “C “ word – that is whispered, or mouthed.
It is not uncommon for people to look to our faith when faced with a major challenge such as a cancer diagnosis. Many who have gone this route can also testify of the importance of looking to one’s faith in these crucial times.
Faith and spirituality can bring us hope and positivity during hard times. Research has shown that faith and religious practices can give meaning and hope to patients undergoing cancer care. This helps to boost positive thinking, which can positively impact our health. By thinking positively, patients are able to make better decisions concerning their survival and treatment.
The emotional stress of dealing with a cancer diagnosis can be a tremendous burden. Whenever the body experiences a stressful situation it tends to release the hormone cortisol. This hormone boosts the immune system and gives the body energy to fight off immediate danger. However, a buildup of cortisol inhibits the functioning of the immune system. This is not desirable because the immune system is critical in fighting off foreign invaders (like a virus) within the body.
Faith for the African descendant is not limited to individual experience. It involves gathering in church communities which provides spiritual support. There is confidence when you know that there is a whole community of people praying with you; believing with you that the God who created the body is able to restore it to a healthy state. You become energized and empowered, knowing that you will be here tomorrow.
Faith supports making healthier decisions. It is not uncommon for churches to host health fairs and screening events for the entire community.
Testimonies from patients and caregivers have shown that faith helps people to cope better with negative health experiences rather than being defeated by them. Documented evidence has shown a positive correlation between faith and well being: people are able to cope and blood pressure is lowered, the immune system functions more efficiently and depression and anxiety are lessened.
It is our hope that conversation about cancer takes place wherever people are─ home, market, bar, hairdresser, while sitting on a “corner”. The more we share information with each other, encourage each other, the more we’ll learn about cancer and the better we’ll be able to develop strategies to cope with it.
Talking about a cancer diagnosis can help in relieving stress and garner emotional support. This further helps individuals to adjust better to a diagnosis.