Today, I passed the local hospital and saw a large pink ribbon on the sign in front. And, pink water rushed forth from the beautiful water fountain at the entrance. Well, of course, October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The country’s awareness of this important issue for women’s health is particularly important to me as well, for I am the daughter of a breast cancer survivor.
I can still remember that day. I had gone to Ohio to be with my mother, Miriam Parker, as she had a suspicious lump removed from her breast. Her surgeon was not concerned, thinking the outcome would be the same as several other lumps he had removed from her breasts through the years. For that reason, when the call came, it was quite shocking to both of us. Cancer? Not my mom! She was too young. She was fit, healthy, and full of life in her sixties. She couldn’t possibly be facing cancer. What did that mean for her future?
My first response to all those questions was to turn to God. My experiences of healing mind, body and soul, from my youth to this time, led me to choose to turn to God in time of trouble. To quote the Psalmist, “God is our refuge and strength; an ever-present help in trouble.” (Psalms 46:1) That meant I didn’t have to wait for an appointment or a further diagnosis or to do research online to give me a peaceful thought about my mother’s illness. I prayed and I felt more calm and able to comfort my mom who was understandably fearful.
The MD Anderson Cancer Center recently announced a 10-year “moon shot” – a $3 billion initiative to find a cure for cancer. This is being introduced when much time and money is already invested into technology and research. Interestingly, other less funded studies are showing a rise in success with additional approaches – including incorporating prayer and spirituality – to treating and healing cancer.
Research over the last decade on how prayer and spirituality affects breast (and other) cancer patients reveals promising results. Similar to the participants in these studies, my mother found that her spirituality was an important factor during her treatment and recovery. She would always say, “I know God is with me wherever I am and whatever I am going through.” A March 19, 2012 article from breastcancer.org entitled Spirituality and Prayer indicates that research on prayer in women with breast cancer and people with other types of cancer shows that spiritual coping may be one of the most powerful ways people draw on their own resources to deal with cancer. It goes on to say other benefits of prayer included: reducing stress and anxiety and promoting a more positive outlook and a stronger will to live.
To quote from the article: The U.S. Office of Technology Assessment looked at studies reported in the Journal of Family Practice over a 10-year time period. The review found that 83 percent of the studies done on spirituality found a positive effect on physical health. Another study looked at 12 years of reports in 2 major psychiatric journals. Of the studies that measured spirituality, 92 percent showed mental health benefits. In research done specifically on women with breast cancer, spirituality and prayer has been associated with less depression and a more positive sense of well-being.
Because of her faith in God, Mom was never tempted to feel depressed about the cancer. She often spoke of the hopelessness in the eyes of some of the other patients she saw on treatment day. But, she always felt hopeful. Even when I could tell she was having a tough time, she never complained. She said regularly, “I have faith in God and I know I will beat this.” And, she did!
The year following her surgery and throughout the time she had radiation treatments, I continued to pray for my mom, as did many of her friends and family. Her faith in God and her spiritual thought definitely helped her cope with this serious illness, had a positive effect on her recovery, and has played a major role in her remaining cancer-free.
Debra Chew is a Christian Science Practitioner in Knoxville. She is the media and legislative representative for Christian Science for the state of TN.