Cancer has a way of leading people toward a search for meaning. The search has more to do with a growing need for spirituality, than for religion. Some may say they are the same, but spirituality and religion are indeed different. Spirituality is a connection to, and reverence for, all that is universal. Spirituality has no doctrine; no formal rules for a belief system. Religion, on the other hand, is grounded in, well... ground rules.
While many of us find comfort in our religion, there may be a greater opportunity in finding meaning through spirituality.
A diagnosis of cancer compels a person to ask the ultimate human questions, "Who am I?" "Why am I here?" "What happens to me, after I'm gone?" I believe that religion and spirituality have a very important place in life, especially when confronting these complex, existential issues. Although we rarely acknowledge the fact that we are mortal, having cancer begs us to look our mortality right in eyes; the very seat of our soul.
But acknowledging mortality equates to embracing vulnerability. Alas, each of us must accept that we are not in control; that we all acquiesce - at some point - to a higher authority. If you are like most people, the depth of your spiritual connection is akin to being in the shallow end of the pool. You may explore various depths, and often marvel at seemingly limitless unanswered questions and mysteries, until you accept that the far end of the "pool" is really the boundless, deep end of a magnificent ocean.
I, too, am like most people. But I'm learning, and I'm finding new avenues to search for meaning, significance, and greater purpose in life.
As a nurse who has spent years caring for cancer patients, I realized long ago that people need to feel their life mattered in a significant way. I felt a responsibility to show them that indeed, they are loved and part of us all. Finding a way to bring them the peace of mind they could not give themselves took me on a search for greater spirituality. It was for myself as much as for them. In helping others I was finding my own way; my own road to understanding.
The beauty of spirituality is that it enables you to create your own private place of being. Is it prayer? It can be, but doesn't have to be. Is it meditation? It can be, but again, doesn't have to be. Spirituality is contemplating anything and everything in relation to your sense of being; finding personal significance in the seemingly insignificant, to that which holds the greatest significance - your relationship with God.
Copyright© 2003 by Nancy H. Dahm and Taylor Hill Publishing
Nancy Hassett Dahm is the author of MIND, BODY & SOUL - A GUIDE TO LIVING WITH CANCER. This article has been edited with permission of the author. For full version or to obtain a copy of the book, please go to www.cancerbook.com